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Botnet of Smart Air Conditioners and Water Heaters Could Bring Down the Power Grid

Hackers could make the grid go dark.

Princeton University researchers have identified a new class of cyberattack that can hijack smart appliances and enlist them in a botnet to orchestrate power disruptions.

Credit: Thinkstock

Princeton University researchers have determined a new class of cyberattack can hijack smart appliances online and enlist them in a botnet to orchestrate power outages.

The Manipulation of demand via Internet of Things (MadIoT) strategies were tested on state-of-the-art simulators of real-world power grid models. The researchers determined a botnet of 90,000 air conditioners and 18,000 electric water heaters could disrupt power demand in a targeted geographical area, by inducing sudden spikes by switching on all the botnet-controlled appliances at the same time or deactivating them simultaneously to cause frequency instability.

The researchers say, "If the imbalance is greater than the system's threshold, the frequency may reach a critical value that causes generators tripping and potentially a large-scale blackout."

They also say hackers could hurt specific utilities by raising their operating costs, with simulations showing "a 5% increase in the power demand during peak hours by an adversary can result in a 20% increase in the power generation cost."

From CSO Online
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