Saturday, June 15, 2024


Why Steal Data When You Can Steal Gas?

by Rich Morahan, Richard Morahan Associates


Electronic devices bypass liquid fuel storage security systems

The major threat to petroleum dispensers used to be card reader skimmers, but since the start of 2022, petroleum theft attacks have become an increasing threat. One level of attack is electronic, but hacking network and communications. The greater simpler threat is physical attacks into a dispenser that disable the pulser to allow access to unmetered fuel. Here are just a few recent incidents:

September 23, 2022, Pinon Hills, Calif. (KABC)

Two men were arrested after allegedly stealing hundreds of gallons of gasoline from two high desert gas stations this week, authorities said.

Surveillance video from an incident early Wednesday morning shows a man breaking into the gas pump at a Shell station in Pinon Hills and then siphoning out gasoline into a large container hidden in the back of his pickup truck.

“It appeared the suspect pried open the gas pump and then used a device to override the system and siphon about 200 gallons of gasoline in their truck,” said Gloria Huerta, a spokesperson for the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.

“Their truck was equipped with a gas tank hidden in the bed of their truck,” Huerta said, “and of course the bed of the truck was covered.”

And if that weren’t enough, dispensers are at risk for hacking. In a recent incident in Virginia Beach, Scott Gibson, a cyber security expert and professor at ECPI University, said the hackers likely accessed the gas station’s internal web system using a laptop.

Previously, a high security lock and cam could secure the front of a dispenser, and protect against insertion of a skimmer or manipulation of internal mechanisms, particularly if the crooks want to stay on the downlow.

Now, however, with fuel prices at high levels, even if down from a few months ago, brute force and fuel drained into a gang’s carrier trucks is an operators’ greatest challenge.

This means that instead of duplicate keys and picking tools, crowbars and hacksaws are often the tools of choice. And even the best locks in the world need support, in the form of shackles and heavy duty outside locks.

The following news report neatly summarizes the software and hardware campaigns:

NBCNEWS July 18, 2022, Updated  July 19, 2022, 9:40 AM EDT

With gas prices at record highs in the U.S. in recent months, some people have turned to hacking the pump.

Since prices  spiked  in March, police have arrested at least 22 people across the country for either digitally manipulating computers that manage gas pumps or installing homemade devices to discount their fuel, according to an NBC News review of police and local news reports.

. . . a suspect he arrested in March used a remote control to access a . . . pump at a Charlotte gas station then sold the gas. The suspect, who is still awaiting trial, put the pump into a setting designed for technicians to test gas, which allows them to dispense fuel without payment, Clark said.

“You can just pump as much as you want. The easy solution to prevent this from happening is to change that code when pumps are installed, but for whatever reason, whether apathy or lack of knowledge, some of these owners aren’t.”

The second method . . . tricks a gas pump into dispensing far more gas than it tracks. Gas pumps rely on a device called a pulser to measure how much gas comes out of a pump, telling it how much to charge a customer. Thieves use  homemade devices, which can be made from a handful of parts from a hardware store, to slow the pulser so it registers only a fraction of the gas it dispenses.

Your Fuel is a More Profitable Commodity Than Data

So, dispensers are under attack electronically and mechanically. How to protect your business? First of all, electronic protection measures might not be that expensive. Change your passwords frequently and limit password access to essential staff. Install a VPN to hinder hacking, and consult with your network installer for their security advice. It’s worth it.

Protecting against mechanical attacks will mean investing in some additional security hardware. Most security-conscious enterprises already have high security locks and a key control system on their top panels. But now, when fuel is a more profitable commodity than data, they may need to add hardware to the locking system.

The cost-effective solution is a comprehensive security lock system. Even if your doors are secured with high security keys, you still may need to secure enclosures around your tanks.

Dispenser protection requires Key Control at the card reader, top door access control and the bottom panel, as well as a third and final barrier – control of the pulser inside the dispenser. A secure enclosure will usually discourage a thief, but if he can break in, a pulser cage is your final line of defense. The thief’s enemy is time, and if you make your target too time consuming to break, he’ll go down the road to your competitor.

The combination of a dispenser enclosure lock with a pulser lock from a company such as PetroDefense of Zypherhills, FL, provides maximum protection against bulk fuel theft, but it’s crucial to link them all with a high security lock system. A tubular lock like those found on vending machines or a lock with a flat key undercut your entire security program. Select devices with registered key code systems and millions of usable key codes.

It is essential to control the entire system. That means relying on comprehensive lock systems from companies such as Lock America of Corona, CA, that manufacture a range of locks across a dozen industries, with unique key blanks and key codes registered uniquely to each customer. The key is the smallest part of your security system. It is also the first line of protection and deterrence.

Rich Morahan, a consultant for Lock America, Inc., writes frequently about security and marketing for the petroleum distribution and other industries, including information management, propane distribution and self-storage. Lock America can be reached at 800-422-2866 or sales@laigroup.com.

Theft Protection
Software and Technology
November-December 2022

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