Friday, September 11, 2009

SCADA Watch: Chinese Students Model How to Short-Circuit the U.S. Power Grid

Paul Marks writes in New Scientist:

Predicting how rumours and epidemics percolate through populations, or how traffic jams spread through city streets, are network analyst Jian-Wei Wang's bread and butter. But his latest findings are likely to spark worries in the US: he's worked out how attackers could cause a cascade of network failures in the US's west-coast electricity grid - cutting power to economic powerhouses Silicon Valley and Hollywood.

Wang and colleagues at Dalian University of Technology in the Chinese province of Liaoning modelled the US's west-coast grid using publicly available data on how it, and its subnetworks, are connected.

Their aim was to examine the potential for cascade failures, where a major power outage in a subnetwork results in power being dumped into an adjacent subnetwork, causing a chain reaction of failures. Where, they wondered, were the weak spots? Common sense suggests they should be the most highly loaded networks, since pulling them offline would dump more energy into smaller networks.

To find out if this is indeed the case, the team analysed both the power loading and the number of connections of each grid subnetwork to establish the order in which they would trip out in the event of a major failure. To their surprise, under particular loading conditions, taking out a lightly loaded subnetwork first caused more of the grid to trip out than starting with a highly loaded one.

More here.


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