Russian, Chinese intelligence targeting Norwegian oil secrets, says report

The espionage targets both industry secrets and government plans to cut or increase production, said Norway's counterintelligence service PST.

By Reuters - December 4, 2020
A man holds a laptop computer as cyber code is projected on him in this illustration picture taken on May 13, 2017. (Kacper Pempel / Reuters / Illustration / File Photo)

OSLO — Russia, China and other countries are using espionage to glean secrets of Norway’s petroleum industry and plans by its government to cut or increase production, the Norwegian counterintelligence service PST said.

In a report dated Nov. 5 but published on Thursday, the service warned of possible attempts to recruit sources or hack computers, as in a major cyber attack six years ago, and said renewable energy could become a focus for foreign spies.

“PST expects that the use of economic tools and network operations will increase in the next 18 months,” it said.

The warning comes less than four months after Norway expelled a Russian diplomat on suspicion of espionage and detained his contact, a Norwegian citizen.

Risk management and quality assurance consultancy DNV GL has said the Norwegian suspect worked at its oil and gas unit, specialising in 3D printing and materials technology.

Spies are after oil and gas technology which could have both civilian and military uses, commercial secrets and any details of plans by western Europe’s largest oil producer for new exploration licenses or regulation of oil production, PST said.

Norway joined OPEC and allies including Russia in imposing national output cuts after oil prices crashed in April as the COVID-19 pandemic quashed demand.

While the OPEC+ group is considering whether to extend the curbs into 2021, Norway’s oil and energy ministry told Reuters on Tuesday it did not plan to do so.

Oslo could hand out a record number of licenses for exploration in the Arctic Barents Sea next year.

The report said more than 50 Norwegian oil and gas companies including Equinor and the oil and energy ministry had been the subject of a cyber attack in 2014.

“Russian, Chinese and other countries’ intelligence services have large technological and human resources, and they work long-term, purposefully and with a large degree of patience,” the counterintelligence service said.

Reporting by Nerijus Adomaitis.