DHS to review report on vulnerability in West Coast power grid

DHS to review report on vulnerability in West Coast power grid
DHS to review report on vulnerability in West Coast power grid 

By Jaikumar Vijayan
September 14, 2009

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is looking at a report by a 
research scientist in China that shows how a well-placed attack against 
a small power subnetwork could trigger a cascading failure of the entire 
West Coast power grid.

Jian-Wei Wang, a network analyst at China's Dalian University of 
Technology, used publicly available information to model how the West 
Coast power grid and its component subnetworks are connected. Wang and 
another colleague then investigated how a major outage in one subnetwork 
would affect adjacent subnetworks, according to an article in New 

The aim of the research was to study potential weak spots on the West 
Coast grid, where an outage on one subnetwork would result in a 
cascading failure across the entire network. A cascading failure occurs 
when an outage on one network results in an adjacent network becoming 
overloaded, triggering a similar set of failures across the entire 
network. The massive blackouts in the Northeast in August 2003, which 
affected close to 10 million, were the result of such a cascading 

Wang's research was expected to show that an outage in a heavily loaded 
network would result in smaller surrounding networks becoming 
overwhelmed and causing cascading blackouts. Instead, what the research 
showed was that under certain conditions, an attacker targeting a 
lightly loaded subnetwork would be able to cause far more of the grid to 
trip and fail, New Scientist reported quoting Wang. The article does not 
describe Wang's research (paid subscription required) or any further 
details of the attack.


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