The pirates who attacked oil rigs this weekend didn’t come o'er the bounding main. They came from the illegal and unprotected download of music and porno by oil workers. 

A number of oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico have been hit by malware attacks, infecting USB drives and other media. 

A report in Saturday’s Houston Chronicle, based on interviews with security specialists, indicated that the attacks disabled the computer systems on some platforms. On one, the crash caused the rig itself to seize up. 

A great deal of oil-extraction technology is computer-driven. Knocking out computer control could theoretically cause fire, explosion, and loss of oil into the water. Fortunately, the rising tide around the rig in question has, according to a security specialist quoted by the paper, reduced the risk of any such thing happening on the crashed platform. 

Many of the platforms are networked, especially those belonging to the same company, making the transmission of the worm or worms easier. The nature of the malware was not specified. 

There is no indication that this was a targeted attack. The infection of USB drives gave some pause, however, as Iranian nuclear facilities were apparently infected by using thumbdrives seeded with the Stuxnet worm. In December, electrical generation facilities attached to the Iranian container of Bandar Abbas, which hosts an oil refinery, were infected by a similar worm

The Chronicle report said the level of cybersecurity on oil platforms in the Gulf were low, with the companies running them resistant to making the expensive upgrades that would keep them safe. 

This would surprise few of the Gulf Coast’s residence, who were severely affected by the negligent malfunction of the Deepwater Horizon rig in 2011. Negligence by oil company BP; the rig’s operator, Transocean; and its builder, Halliburton, led to that platform malfunctioning and pumping 210 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Photo by NOAA Photo Library/Flickr