Fresh comments from leading industry figures have revealed an alarming new trend, showing a marked increase in the number of cyber attacks targeting the energy sector.

The comments were made to Reuters by a number of leaders within the industry. The comments uniformly reported oil companies as being particularly vulnerable to cyber attacks.

The increase in the frequency and tenacity of the attacks on oil companies' was first noted by Ludolf Luehmann, an IT manager at Shell Europe.

"We see an increasing number of attacks on our IT systems and information and there are various motivations behind it - criminal and commercial," commented Luehmann to Reuters.

Luehmann went on to highlight the ease with which hackers could take down an entire oil supply chain due to the mechanisms' reliance on computer, automated controls. "If anybody gets into the area where you can control opening and closing of valves, or release valves, you can imagine what happens," said Luehmann.

"It will cost lives and it will cost production, it will cost money, cause fires and cause loss of containment, environmental damage - huge, huge damage."

Further concerns were in-turn expressed by head of IT security at Abu Dhabi Company for Onshore Oil Operations (ADCO), Riemer Brouwer, about the affect a successful cyber attack could have on the global economy.

"Oil needs to keep on flowing," commented Brouwer to Reuters. "We have a very strategic position in the global oil and gas market... If they could bring down one of the big players in the oil and gas market you can imagine what this will do for the oil price -- it would blow the market."

The Stuxnet computer worm was highlighted as a strong example of the danger. The worm spread across numerous companies' networks until its discovery in 2010. It was among the first ever programmes discovered, specifically designed to let hackers fake industrial process control sensor signals allowing them to bypass inherent network safety protocols and shutdown mechanisms.

Following up the reported threat of an overt cyber attack, experts were also quick to point out the danger cyber espionage poses, specifically naming the recently uncovered Duqu virus. Discovered by Symantec Corp in October the virus contained code similar to Stuxnet and was believed to have been gathering data to help hackers mount future cyber attacks.