Cyber Attacks on Power Grids: Causes and Propagation of Cascading Failures

Vetrivel Subramaniam Rajkumar, Alexandru Stefanov, Alfan Presekal, Peter Palensky, Jose Luis Rueda Torres

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Cascading effects in the power grid involve an uncontrolled, successive failure of elements. The root cause of such failures is the combined occurrence of multiple, statistically rare events that may result in a blackout. With increasing digitalisation, power systems are vulnerable to emergent cyber threats. Furthermore, such threats are not statistically limited and can simultaneously occur at multiple locations. In the absence of real-world attack information, however, it is imperative to investigate if and how cyber attacks can cause power system cascading failures. Hence, in this work we present a fundamental analysis of the connection between the cascading failure mechanism and cyber security. We hypothesise and demonstrate how cyber attacks on power grids may cause cascading failures and a blackout. To do so, we perform a systematic survey of major historic blackouts caused by physical disturbances, and examine the cascading failure mechanism. Subsequently, we identify critical cyber-physical factors that can activate and influence it. We then infer and discuss how cyber attack vectors can enable these factors to cause and accelerate cascading failures. A synthetic case-study and software-based simulation results prove our hypothesis. This analysis enables future research into cyber resilience of power grids.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103154-103176
Number of pages23
JournalIEEE Access
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Blackout
  • cascading failures
  • cyber attacks
  • cyber resilience
  • cyber security


Dive into the research topics of 'Cyber Attacks on Power Grids: Causes and Propagation of Cascading Failures'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this