Hacked Appliances Could Shut Down the Power Grid, Researchers Say

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We've all heard of the dangers that the internet of things presents, but could they be used to target critical infrastructure and trigger mass blackouts? Security researchers from Princeton University think so, Wired reports.

The Princeton researchers believe a botnet encompassing thousands of connected and hacked power-hungry home appliances like air conditioners and water heaters could take down the power grid simply by overwhelming it.

The researchers determined this by conducting a series of simulations using software. In these simulations, a power network serving a population roughly the size of California would suffer if there was even a 1 percent bump in demand created by these hacked appliances.

The power grid and critical infrastructure in general are of great concern to security researchers. Security experts have floated many ideas on how to protect the power grid, like relying on retro tech to prevent attacks or handing off some security tasks to automation. But all of them surmise a scenario where hackers attack the grid directly.

"We hope that our work raises awareness of the significance of these attacks to grid operators, smart appliance manufacturers, and systems security experts in order to make the power grid (and other interdependent networks) more secure against cyber attacks," write the researchers. "This is especially critical in the near future when more smart appliances with the ability to connect to the Internet are going to be manufactured."

The team will present the results of its research at the Usenix Security Conference held this week.