Manipulating Residents' Behavior to Attack the Urban Power Distribution System

Gururaghav Raman, Jimmy Chih Hsien Peng, Talal Rahwan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The reliable operation of the power distribution system is a matter of national security. Increasingly, urban distribution systems rely on communications between customers and the utility to implement consumer-centric programs such as demand response that enhance the grid resilience. This paper reports an unconventional and previously unexamined mode of malicious attack on the power distribution infrastructure of cities. It demonstrates that consumer behaviors in such a system could be manipulated by an attacker using false communications, which could significantly impact the system reliability. Using a novel decision-making model for consumer response, possible network impacts of such an attack are examined, which include reduction in system reserves, increase in peak demand, lower voltage profiles, and potential system blackouts. These detrimental effects are shown to worsen in the future as more consumers join such programs and adopt flexible high-power loads. Furthermore, though the system is resilient to random errors or failures, it remains highly vulnerable to strategic attacks such as those demonstrated here. These results recommend urgency in developing solutions to detect and tackle possible injection of fake information into such critical systems, which, as shown here, can have a very real impact on the energy infrastructure reliability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number8663295
Pages (from-to)5575-5587
Number of pages13
JournalIEEE Transactions on Industrial Informatics
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2019


  • Behavioral demand response (DR)
  • consumer behavior
  • power system security
  • vulnerability identification

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Control and Systems Engineering
  • Information Systems
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


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