Monday, September 14, 2009

How to short-circuit the US power grid

On September 11, 2009, Paul Marks from the New Scientists published an article entitled How to short-circuit the US power grid. The article discusses work conducted by researchers from China's Dalian University of Technology. These researchers studied vulnerabilities in US's West Coast power grid. The researchers found that the best way to attack the power grid was to attack the least loaded nodes on the grid. Attacking these lightly loaded nodes was the best way to cause cascading failures throughout the grid.

According to the research, "an attack on the nodes with the lowest loads can be a more effective way to destroy the electrical power grid of the western US due to cascading failures."

Although cyber vulnerabilities in the power grid have been found via other research, it should be noted that this article does not point to any specific "cyber" vulnerabilities in the power grid. Instead the vulnerabilities discussed in this article are within on the structural design of the power grid and the vulnerabilities found in the grid's design could presumably be exploited more easily through a physical attack - i.e. blowing up a generator.

We'll discuss this article later in the semester when we focus on information warfare and cyber attacks but I wanted to pass it along sooner rather than later.

1 comment:

Tristan said...

The ending quote in the article;

"A determined attacker would... need only a bunch of guys with some Semtex to blow up the grid lines near a power station"

shows how vulnerable these nodes are. If the 'attacker' can determine the specific location of this weaker node itself, it would indeed be relatively simple to cause a blackout.

We can only hope that it is more difficult to access these grid lines than simply walking up them and laying down explosives.