How weaponizing disinformation can bring down a city’s power grid

Gururaghav Raman, Bedoor AlShebli, Marcin Waniek, Talal Rahwan, Jimmy Chih Hsien Peng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Social media has made it possible to manipulate the masses via disinformation and fake news at an unprecedented scale. This is particularly alarming from a security perspective, as humans have proven to be one of the weakest links when protecting critical infrastructure in general, and the power grid in particular. Here, we consider an attack in which an adversary attempts to manipulate the behavior of energy consumers by sending fake discount notifications encouraging them to shift their consumption into the peak-demand period. Using Greater London as a case study, we show that such disinformation can indeed lead to unwitting consumers synchronizing their energy-usage patterns, and result in blackouts on a city-scale if the grid is heavily loaded. We then conduct surveys to assess the propensity of people to follow-through on such notifications and forward them to their friends. This allows us to model how the disinformation may propagate through social networks, potentially amplifying the attack impact. These findings demonstrate that in an era when disinformation can be weaponized, system vulnerabilities arise not only from the hardware and software of critical infrastructure, but also from the behavior of the consumers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0236517
JournalPloS one
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2020


  • Cities
  • Communication
  • Computer Systems
  • Deception
  • Humans
  • Information Dissemination
  • London
  • Social Media
  • Social Networking
  • Software
  • Surveys and Questionnaires

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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