Electric car charging stations may be portals for power grid cyberattacks

From TechXplore

by NYU Tandon School of Engineering

Electric car charging stations may be portals for power grid cyberattacks

The map displays substations connected by transmissions lines along with electric vehicle charging stations. The size of the blue circles is proportional to the charging station demand. Such information can be used by hackers to disrupt either charging of electric vehicles or the power grid itself. Credit: NYU Tandon School of Engineering

Electric cars are an essential component of a lower-carbon future, but a new report from researchers at the New York University Tandon School of Engineering raises the specter that plug-in electric vehicles—and the charging stations that supply them—could be prime vectors for cyberattacks on urban power grids.

“In simulations using publicly available information about charging station usage in Manhattan and the structure of the island’s power grid, our research team found that a fleet of just roughly 1,000 simultaneously charging electric vehicles would be adequate for mounting an attack whose effects could rival the blackout that affected the city’s West Side last month,” said Yury Dvorkin, assistant professor in NYU Tandon’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

NYU Tandon doctoral candidate Samrat Acharya led the research in collaboration with Dvorkin and Professor Ramesh Karri, also from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

“This simulation is a wake-up call to the public and policymakers, and an encouragement to take steps to protect the data generated between electric cars and charging stations—most of which could be co-opted by a hacker with college-level skills,” Dvorkin said.

Electric vehicle charging stations represent a link between plug-in electric vehicles and the power grid—a high-wattage access point that hackers can potentially exploit to manipulate the grid. Each vehicle that uses a public charging station generates data on its location and charging time, along with information on the average hourly power draw at each station. Information on power usage is critical for a malicious actor who wishes to manipulate demand at a particular charging station. This information is easily accessible, as it is transmitted wirelessly by third-party apps that cater to electric vehicle owners.

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39 thoughts on “Electric car charging stations may be portals for power grid cyberattacks

  1. re: “Electric car charging stations may be portals for power grid cyberattacks”

    How? Gimme an idea what you’re talking about? Cite some vendors and the comms protocols, for instance.

    re: “In simulations using publicly available information about charging station usage in Manhattan and the structure of the island’s power grid, our research team found that a fleet of just roughly 1,000 simultaneously charging electric vehicles would be adequate for mounting an attack whose effects could rival the blackout that affected the city’s West Side last month,”

    Bet not.

    Your ‘simulation’ was a static simulation, assuming no manned intervention, NOR do you know what the substation protective relays are set for (there are a TON of setup parameters, AND, adjacent switchyards can communicate back and forth) to protect transmission and/or distribution lines.

    Anyone can download one of those power simulators, set the network up and make a few dozen assumptions and then ‘run’ the simulation. But you don’t know a whole host of parameters.

    So much of this ‘doom and gloom’ assumes static system operation, NO programmed supervisory equipment (AKA “protective relaying” as the term goes in the industry) and NO intervention by grid supervisory personnel (transmission and/or distribution operator).

    • _Jim, Yes, exactly. It’s as if these academics aren’t really aware of the number of layers of *dynamic* protective equipment present in modern urban power distribution.

      • Have you considered the fact that some of these can be shutdown just like HW Heaters, AC units, refrigerator s, freezers, and the other devices controlled on the Smart Grid?

      • Have you considered the fact that some of these can be shutdown just like HW Heaters, AC units, refrigerator s, freezers, and the other devices controlled on the Smart Grid?

    • “_Jim August 16, 2019 at 10:18 am
      re: “Electric car charging stations may be portals for power grid cyberattacks”

      How? Gimme an idea what you’re talking about? Cite some vendors and the comms protocols, for instance”.

      Jim, one idea would be to know the specification of one electromobil hanging on the grid to force a loading malfunction.

      Software developers are not immune to “switching sides”.

  2. “…our research team found that a fleet of just roughly 1,000 simultaneously charging electric vehicles would be adequate for mounting an attack whose effects could rival the blackout that affected the city’s West Side last month”

    Guys, get your head out of your a$$ and join the real world. 1000 people with EVs simultaneously attacking the grid. Good gawd you people are stupid.

    • Have you heard of Extinction Rebellion or Giles Jaune? Two organisations. that would like to disrupt the state and both can/could put more than a thousand operatives in the field. XR probably has a thousand EVs available foreby.

      • Most of the actors within Extinction Rebellion are too lazy and stupid to mount a coordinated anything. Many of them are just 3rd generation trust fund hold-overs, who are so full of self-loathing that they are willing to glue themselves to a door just to feel relevant.

        One of the over-riding features of most groups of anarchists is the total lack of commitment to any hierarchy that’s necessary to accomplish anything larger than themselves. Personally I’d be more concerned if I saw 3 VW Bugs full of clowns coming down the street.

      • looking at the tesla in Venezuela last week that went berko trying to park
        if it gets info it can send info back
        and theyve been proved hackable as have the other spy in the sky comms on normal cars.
        damn Id laugh so hard if it happened.

    • 1000 vehicles in simulated attack? Assuming 1000 simulated outlets and cordsets to use? Assuming credible results?

  3. OMG, what a brilliant exploit. Just you and 999 of your friends can bring the grid down.

    Way less than 999 terrorists were necessary to shut down North American air space during 911 using nothing much more complicated than box cutters.

    Terrorist exploits are, by necessity, very simple. The complicated ones tend not to work very well. The Tokyo subway nerve gas exploit worked way less well than you would think. Nerve gas … enclosed space … what could possibly go wrong? For some reason I am reminded of Wile E. Coyote. (Yes, I realize he’s only a cartoon character.) His brilliant exploits never worked.

    • commieBob, Yes, yet Mr Coyote is such a brilliant example to present when folks ask what the Shakespearean expression “Hoist on his own petard” really means.

    • The more interesting part is if the stations have remote monitoring whether you could hack them and achieve the same result a bit like how the US attacked Irans reprocessing centrifuges.

  4. OT I apologise, but I have a serious question. How do the climate models relate the temperature of the air about 5 feet off the ground (measured in a stevenson screen) to the ground temperature that causes Boltzman radiation? Which do they use in the climate models?

    • That’s actually a very good question. But, you’re right. Wildly off topic, and certainly not amenable to a single post reply.

      May I suggest a rather deep dive into the archives of WUWT. This, and many related topics, have been discussed at length and in a scholarly manner.

  5. From the original article that this one is liinked to:

    “Electric vehicle charging stations represent a link between plug-in electric vehicles and the power grid—a high-wattage access point that hackers can potentially exploit to manipulate the grid. Each vehicle that uses a public charging station generates data on its location and charging time, along with information on the average hourly power draw at each station. Information on power usage is critical for a malicious actor who wishes to manipulate demand at a particular charging station. This information is easily accessible, as it is transmitted wirelessly by third-party apps that cater to electric vehicle owners.

    Information about the structure of the power grid is more fragmented and difficult to access; however, the research team demonstrated that a combination of public documents and resources available through industry standards-setting organizations and from utilities’ public releases may be tapped to construct power grid topology and model the system components.

    Together, these elements allow an attacker to use charging stations as portals to remotely manipulate electric vehicle charging and the power grid by causing instabilities that could
    range from barely noticeable to significantly disruptive.”

    Basically what they are saying is a if a hacker turned on all 1000 chargers on and then off at the same time they could destabilize the grid. Unfortunately t the chargers alone ndon’t present any meaningful load to the grid. each charger would have to be fast charger with a car connected.

    Not going to happen. For starters the computers on these chargers only handle billing information. They don’t tell a remote computer to turn on the power because they are hard wired to be always on. And when a car is plugged in power is only turned on if the cables is correctly connected.

  6. Sounds unlikely, but then so did side-channel attacks on modern CPUs until Meltdown and Spectre.

  7. Murphy’s law.
    The Gilets jaunes are busy attempting to take Macron the moron down, so XR is the enemy. Funded by Soros and his ilk, they got the money and the knowledge.

    • And who cares anyway? Any city that is big enough to have 1000 charge points and 1000 electric cars is full of climate change fanatics who deserve to have a blackout. No deplorables in the area.

  8. If an organisation or bunch of anarchists wanted to take a grid down, there are many, many, easier ways to do it that arranging a thousand electric cars plug in to charge at the same instant.
    This story just has to be the idea of a child trying to look intelligent but conveying the exact opposite. It wasn’t a 16 year old Swedish girl by any chance?

  9. Perhaps there are a few things these bright sparks didn’t take into account, in addition to there being easier ways to disrupt a power-grid, especially in less populated areas.

    For one thing, they are assuming that simply plugging in an EV and selecting “fast-charge” or whatever the maximum wattage setting is would immediately draw large current. The hand-shaking that the charge connector does with the charging station, that own station’s availability for “fast-charge”, based on the measured grid supply, and the internal battery-management logic in the vehicle itself will also play a part in how much grid-load one thirsty fast-charging car causes. More prosaic safeguards such as current-sensing circuit-breakers (at the station itself) also exist.

    Also, some charging stations have local power-storage and solar, so as to save the operator money, so that would need to be accounted for as well. The path from the charging plug to the grid-at-large in a particular area is not simple.

    And, as has already been pointed out, the exact topological relationship of those “1000 charging points” with the rest of the grid would need to be well understood to stand a chance at successful “un-graceful” failure of the grid in that area.

    Unfortunately there are easier ways to attack a power-grid in the US which are probably best not mentioned in detail.

    It’s almost as if these folks aren’t aware of the fluctuating loads that HVAC and other industrial machinery in heavily populated urban regions generate already.

  10. Well, it would take something like that for me to register as a UBER driver with my used V8 SUV for the money deal. Of course there would be surcharge for stranded EV riders.

  11. Storing electrons in jerrycans and barrels proves to be rather delicate.

    Whoever has access to this portion of the grid could immobilize a highly electrified nation.

    Greens have a documented record of liberticide and confining projects. Furthermore they actively lobby for total gun control.

    Which boils down to an easy to selectively paralyze nation without any means of self defense.

    No, no need for “hackers”. They are part of the system by design.

  12. Quite a few… comments here have come to the conclusion that switching-on-or-off 1,000 at-home higher-charge-rate e-car chargers, all at once, would NOT disrupt the local, and perhaps by chain-reaction, the larger grid.

    This is true.

    Just consider, in your average rain-or-wind storm, significant sections of “the grid” have smaller transformers blow, or through high-tension arc-over, larger-area circuit breakers pop. The breakers are all (these days) outfitted with automatic ‘stay open for 1 minute, then connect again, to see if short persists’ logic. This they do 3 times. Then they give up until The Company sends out a crew, or the unit receives a telemetry-signal to reset, and start all over.

    In the last fairly big storm, the San Fransisco Bay Area network of grids at one point had over 75 substation breaker overloads. Causes varied; most were resolved by the automatic “try in 1 minute, up to 3 times” logic. A few were due to downed power lines, and needed crews to take action. The larger California grid hardly felt more than a few big burps. Quite within its capabilities to handle.

    The real point-of-vulnerability isn’t some time in the middle of the night, or at the peak consumption of the day. The electric companies are keenly aware to build extra capacity (or diminished… at night) into the network to keep aforementioned sudden-shorts, unexpected opens from cascading to a larger-and-larger regional outage. Just for the above.

    So no, a bunch of e-car chargers, suddenly going to full-demand, aren’t going to ‘do it’ to the grid. Nominally.

    HOWEVER, there is one particular “other case” that is a point of critical exposure: when the “frequency” of the grid begins to droop (or ‘spin up’).
    ________________________________________

    Nominally, using the US 60 Hz power as an example, the hundreds of spinning generators try hard to synchronize the exact spin-rate of their individual dynamos to the mean frequency of the grid itself, and that derived from atomic-clock synchronized reference frequency oscillators. However, in periods of high-and-rising grid load, the unplanned-for extra load slows down the generators by a fraction of a Hertz, for periods from under-a-second to minutes. In that less-than-reference-frequency interval, the grid is extremely vulnerable to sudden changes to its load.

    If all 1,000 (or more likely 25,000+) compromised car-chargers were to suddenly turn on, it very well could spell doom to not the small-scale “neighborhood” substation breakers, but to the whole regional and interstate grid operations. The rate at which additional “elective generation” resources could be kicked online takes awhile.

    The added load would suddenly cause the frequency to drop further … when would then trip automatic regional cut-out breakers to isolate the load regions from the central grid. This would cut load to it, causing frequencies to immediately rise. It is exactly this kind of chaotic lag-behind-then-race-forward instability that caused the Northeast grid to fail precipitously some decades back. 1965 Northeast Blackout, 1977 New York blackout, 1982 West Coast blackout. 2003 Northeast Blackout № 2. And so on.
    ________________________________________

    THING IS… that this vulnerability doesn’t really depend on e-car chargers very much. It could soon be something precipitated by the network of IoT Internet-of-Things devices that are coming online. For instance, in some areas, one can purchase ‘smart laundry’ equipment, dryers, washing machines. They are large power consumers taken together, on par with e-car chargers. The vulnerability above is just as sensitive to sudden-demand of laundry equipment as it is e-car chargers.

    Parenthetically, the exact opposite logic is also an exposure risk for The Grid. In periods when the frequency rises above the nominal 60 Hz (sudden lack of demand for too much online generation capacity), a sudden (further) cut in demand could likewise drive the grid into chaotic response, and then cell isolation. Could result in just as dibilitating power outages on the smaller regional levels. At least though, taking OFF-LINE too-many generators is far easier than kick-starting a bunch of cold ones in response to unpredicted overdemand. I’d rank this vulnerability as a 5, not an 8 as in the first case.
    ________________________________________

    Again, as other commenters have posted, there ARE other far less computationally complex vulnerabilities that might be xploited. And again, as one sage quipped … it really might not be wise to post such things here. I worry less about the cyber-criminal approach, except insofar as Global Actors are concerned. It isn’t something that your random White Suprecist is going to cobble together, even a band of them. But … the Norks, Nigerians, Chinese, Russians, and dyspepsic groups within Israel … well … they’ve got the chops.

    Just saying,
    GoatGuy ✓

    • We will soon have many millions of “smart” thermostats, refrigerators, water heaters, etc online and subject to operation by command or internal code, code which may be updated remotely. There will be many vulnerabilities wherein affected controls could simultaneously send an “on” command. Not necessarily easy, but it could be done.

  13. Of course this can be done.

    You don’t need 1000 friends. Just hack 1000 cars.
    Hard today…. Easy tomorrow.

    You say the power topology is complex. But you only need to map it once. After all it is not like it changes too often. Once done and dumped out on the dark web….. It is there forever.

    Just wait until some Capital One style hacker decides to brick it all…

  14. Ummm… the only time the larger grid is really vulnerable is when it is experiencing “drooping frequency” conditions. This is where demand is nearly-at, or even slightly exceeding generating capacity. The problem is that additional load, added AT that time, could drive the system it to self-protecting chaos. Large circuits cut out, spinning up the generators, resulting in over-frequency, which in turn cuts additional generators, but the self-healing breakers begin to add load again, and all hêll breaks loose.

    Other than then, there should be little-to-no problem. Just consider how many ‘neighborhood’ power lines are shorted out in a wind-storm, causing all nature of overloads and circuit-breaking. Mostly it self-heals. Sometimes it doesn’t. Downed power lines, blown transformers, that kind of thing.

    Just saying,
    GoatGuy ✓

    • This was posted … because the just-previous post on posting complained about being a duplicate, but didn’t show up. The delay-in-posting of WUWT sure can generate false negatives!

      • GG, it appears that only some of us experience the delay which forces us to wait for hourly refreshing of the page. I sometimes am able to access a new posting from the hyperlink in the email but not by refreshing the page. Downright weird.

  15. Hmmm…. there may be a way to disable the charging stations themselves, perhaps via a localized DDOS-type of attack. But bring down the grid seems like a stretch.

    How does one make payment at at charging station? If it’s via credit or debit card, then there is the possibility of payment card skimmers hidden inside the charging stations, similar to compromised gas pumps.

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