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Cyber-attacks on London grid could cost up to £111m daily

Electricity networks are proving to be a point of failure which many people previously thought impermeable, highlights a new research study.

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Cyber- and cyber-physical attacks could cause substantial power outages
Cyber- and cyber-physical attacks could cause substantial power outages

Cyber-attacks on London electricity networks could disrupt upwards of 1.5 million people at a cost of £111m daily, a new study warns.

 

According to research from the UK Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium (ITRC) at the University of Oxford, electricity networks are increasingly susceptible to cyber-attacks.

 

Point of failure

 

Such networks are proving to be a point of failure which many people previously thought impermeable.

“Critical national infrastructure such as smart electricity networks are susceptible to malicious cyber-attacks which could cause substantial power outages and cascading failure affecting multiple business, health and education organisations as well domestic supply,” said Edward Oughton, infrastructure researcher at the ITRC and the Centre for Risk Studies at the Cambridge Judge Business School.

 

An estimated 62,000 people were affected by a power failure caused by a substation outage in New York recently. However, this could seem insignificant next to the possible effects of a cyber-attack on a network, the ITRC notes.

 

In 2015, a cyber-physical attack took place on the Ukrainian electricity distribution network, leading to a loss of power for 225,000 people.

Estimated GDP losses range from £20.6m for a four-substation electricity event to £111.4m for a 14-substation electricity event

A Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community report published earlier this year also notes that “China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea increasingly use cyber operations to threaten both minds and machines in an expanding number of ways – to steal information, to influence our citizens, or to disrupt critical infrastructure.”

 

GDP losses from a similar sized attack in London, published in another paper, “Cyber-Physical Attacks on Electricity Distribution Infrastructure Networks”, in the Risk Analysis Journal show conservative scenarios ranging from £20.6m for a four-substation electricity event to £111.4m for a 14-substation electricity event.

The research paper uses the UK as a case study and identifies:

  • The direct impact on household and business consumers of power
  • The indirect impact of a cyber-physical attack to infrastructure beyond electricity
  • A greater understanding of systemic risk arising from cyber and smart energy systems.

 

The research demonstrates that these types of attacks on electricity distribution substations could lead to further indirect infrastructure cascading failure across telecoms, fresh water supply, waste water and even railways.

“The research will be of interest to governments, private infrastructure operators, commercial consumers of infrastructure services and other stakeholders who want to understand systemic risks from cyber-physical attacks on critical national infrastructure,” added professor Daniel Ralph of the Cambridge Centre for Risk Studies.

 

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