Clock is Ticking on Tackling Threat to Power Grid

by Siddarth Vodnala,  WSU Insider

In the Fall of 2016, a massive cyberattack took down large parts of the Internet, including major websites like Twitter, Netflix and Amazon, in the largest attack of its kind in history.

Unlike your run-of-the-mill cyberattack which uses personal computers or mobile phones, though, hackers in this case used millions of Internet-connected devices like printers, webcams, routers, security cameras and baby monitors to launch the attack.

There has been unprecedented growth in Internet of Things (IoT) technologies over the last decade. They’re used in an increasing array of devices from medical equipment to voice assistants to cars and homes.

This means that attackers could threaten operations of power grids by injecting malicious code into such devices, creating a huge change in their power demand, leading to load shocks and blackouts.

Washington State University (WSU) researchers evaluated the threat presented by Internet-linked devices connected to the U.S. electric power grid. WSU’s Adam Hahn and David Jonathan Sebastian-Cardenas simulated how smart devices and smart homes could be exploited to commandeer the grid and wreak havoc.

“Inverters, thermostats, air conditioners, even toasters are now being connected to the Internet,” said Hahn. Smart buildings and smart homes can remotely control climate by sensing occupancy, external weather, and peoples’ comfort levels — all over the Internet.

The spread of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies could allow attackers to jeopardize power-grid operations by injecting malware into such devices, causing their power demand to wildly fluctuate and trigger load shocks and outages. Sebastian-Cardenas warned the future proliferation of large-load controllers and smart inverters could imperil grid functions due to their fast load-changing capabilities. “Utilities should require their users to install devices that satisfy a minimal set of security policies that prevent a large-scale attack on the power grid,” he said.  Full article

DCL:  I’ve been writing about this problem, and many similar ones, since my 2002 book, “The Power Of Events.” 

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