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How hackers could cut the power to your house

How hackers could take down a "smart" electric grid

The way we generate power is changing. In response to climate change, air pollution, energy market volatility and new technologies, we're slowly shifting from a traditional 'passive' electric grid to a new, improved model.

These are known as 'smart' grids, and employ sensors and big data technology to improve how we get power to the people.

"They dramatically improve the efficiency, flexibility and reliability of the existing electricity infrastructure," write security researchers Carl Chalmers, Michael Mackay and Aine MacDermott of Liverpool John Moores University.

They also warn, however, in a new paper published in the International Journal of Smart Grid and Green Communications, that these grids represent a security risk. Hackers could easily trigger blackouts by attacking weak points on the network.

Flows of Information

One of the major weak points is the metering systems that send information between the consumer and the producer, figuring out patterns of use so that generation can be matched to demand. A malicious third party with access to those flows of information could manipulate them to create a shortfall in power generation at a crucial time.

Especially in the UK where closing coal and oil power plants has increased the demand on gas power stations, they recommend that worst-case scenarios should be simulated and tested in advance, with security measures put in place to safeguard our networks.

They wrote: "Critical infrastructures in particular, present a tempting target for terrorists, military strikes and hackers wanting to cause disruption, steal information or incapacitate a country remotely."

  • Duncan Geere is TechRadar's science writer. Every day he finds the most interesting science news and explains why you should care. You can read more of his stories here, and you can find him on Twitter under the handle @duncangeere.