Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

IoT
8/6/2020
01:20 PM
Connect Directly
Twitter
LinkedIn
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Energy Market Manipulation with High-Wattage IoT Botnets

Attackers that can compromise enough products such as smart ACs and heaters can tweak power demand in subtle ways for financial gain or to hurt market players, researchers at Black Hat say.

Most concerns about vulnerable Internet of Things (IoT) devices have centered on adversaries targeting them to disrupt operations or to assemble large botnets for launching denial-of-service attacks or distributing malware and spam.

In a new spin, researchers at a Black Hat virtual event this week described how certain high-wattage Internet-connected devices such as smart air-conditioners and electric-vehicle (EV) chargers could be used to manipulate energy markets.

According to the researchers, from the Georgia Institute of Technology, their studies show that attackers can alter power demand on a grid if they are able to compromise and control a sufficient enough number of high-wattage IP-connected products. By simultaneously switching on or shutting down tens of thousands of EV chargers, for instance, or smart heaters, ACs, and ovens, attackers can change real-time demand for power enough to affect electricity prices.

"If we can somehow control the total power consumption of the power grid and change it slightly, we should be able to affect real-time systems for electricity market prices," said Tohid Shekari, a doctoral candidate at the Georgia Institute of Technology. If the attacks are carried out in a sophisticated enough manner, the manipulation would be almost unnoticeable, he said.

Shekari provided an example of an attacker with a botnet made up of 100,000 IoT devices, each consuming 3 kilowatts per hour (3,000 watts). If the attacker were to turn the bots on or off for about three hours a day for about eight days a month, it would be enough to trigger a barely noticeable but sufficient change in demand so as to affect prices.

Shekari said his research showed that such attacks can be carried out without the owners of the high-wattage devices noticing anything is amiss. As examples of stealth tactics, he pointed to early morning attacks on smart water heaters or EV chargers, or midday attacks on a smart fridge or garage door opener when no one is likely to be at home. If the attacks are smart enough, device owners are unlikely to notice the small changes in their electric bill that will likely result from such manipulation, Shekari said.

A market player could profit from such demand manipulation to the tune of millions of dollars per day. Or a nation-state player could deliberately manipulate power demand to cause substantial financial damage to targeted segments of the electricity market, Shekari said.

Feasible and Possible
According to Shekari, there are several reasons why such attacks are feasible and well within the capabilities of sophisticated adversaries. For one thing, data shows that millions of high-wattage devices are being connected to the Internet on a daily basis. Data shows there are more than 30 million smart thermostats installed in North America alone in 2020, he said. If an adversary has access to even a small fraction of the installed base of high-wattage IoT devices, they should have enough bots to manipulate market prices, he added.

Numerous underground markets readily offer IoT botnets for hire. It's conceivable that these markets will soon start offering botnets made up of high-wattage devices. Even if the prices for these botnets end up being a hundred times more expensive than regular botnets, there is still enough profit in energy market manipulation for adversaries, Shekari said. The researchers have not been able to test their model in a real-life situation. But simulations with real-world data from load-sensitive markets such as New York and California confirm that such attacks are possible, he said.

One potential measure against such manipulation is for energy industry stakeholders — including major manufacturers of high-wattage devices — to develop a database for monitoring the real-time behavior of devices so it is easier to spot when they are being manipulated. Limiting price sensitivity in real-time energy markets can also make it harder for an adversary to manipulate demand without being noticed, Shekari said.

Related Content:

Jai Vijayan is a seasoned technology reporter with over 20 years of experience in IT trade journalism. He was most recently a Senior Editor at Computerworld, where he covered information security and data privacy issues for the publication. Over the course of his 20-year ... View Full Bio
 

Recommended Reading:

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
COVID-19: Latest Security News & Commentary
Dark Reading Staff 9/25/2020
Google Cloud Debuts Threat-Detection Service
Robert Lemos, Contributing Writer,  9/23/2020
Shopify's Employee Data Theft Underscores Risk of Rogue Insiders
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  9/23/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
Special Report: Computing's New Normal
This special report examines how IT security organizations have adapted to the "new normal" of computing and what the long-term effects will be. Read it and get a unique set of perspectives on issues ranging from new threats & vulnerabilities as a result of remote working to how enterprise security strategy will be affected long term.
Flash Poll
How IT Security Organizations are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
How IT Security Organizations are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
The COVID-19 pandemic turned the world -- and enterprise computing -- on end. Here's a look at how cybersecurity teams are retrenching their defense strategies, rebuilding their teams, and selecting new technologies to stop the oncoming rise of online attacks.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2020-26120
PUBLISHED: 2020-09-27
XSS exists in the MobileFrontend extension for MediaWiki before 1.34.4 because section.line is mishandled during regex section line replacement from PageGateway. Using crafted HTML, an attacker can elicit an XSS attack via jQuery's parseHTML method, which can cause image callbacks to fire even witho...
CVE-2020-26121
PUBLISHED: 2020-09-27
An issue was discovered in the FileImporter extension for MediaWiki before 1.34.4. An attacker can import a file even when the target page is protected against "page creation" and the attacker should not be able to create it. This occurs because of a mishandled distinction between an uploa...
CVE-2020-25812
PUBLISHED: 2020-09-27
An issue was discovered in MediaWiki 1.34.x before 1.34.4. On Special:Contributions, the NS filter uses unescaped messages as keys in the option key for an HTMLForm specifier. This is vulnerable to a mild XSS if one of those messages is changed to include raw HTML.
CVE-2020-25813
PUBLISHED: 2020-09-27
In MediaWiki before 1.31.10 and 1.32.x through 1.34.x before 1.34.4, Special:UserRights exposes the existence of hidden users.
CVE-2020-25814
PUBLISHED: 2020-09-27
In MediaWiki before 1.31.10 and 1.32.x through 1.34.x before 1.34.4, XSS related to jQuery can occur. The attacker creates a message with [javascript:payload xss] and turns it into a jQuery object with mw.message().parse(). The expected result is that the jQuery object does not contain an <a> ...