Published by The Lawfare Institute
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An adversary looking to disrupt a power grid may look to target certain substations and sources of power generation to initiate a cascading failure that maximizes the number of customers without electricity. This is particularly an important concern when the enemy has the capabilityto launch cyber-attacks as practical concerns (i.e. avoiding disruption of service, presence of legacy systems, etc.) may hinder security. Hence, a defender can harden the security posture at certain power stations but may lack the time and resources to do this for the entire power grid. We model a power grid as a graph and introduce the cascading failure game in which both the defender and attacker choose a subset of power stations such as to minimize (maximize) the number of consumers having access to producers of power. We formalize problems for identifying both mixed and deterministic strategies for both players, prove complexity results under a variety of different scenarios, identify tractable cases, and develop algorithms for these problems. We also perform an experimental evaluation of the model and game on a real-world power grid network. Empirically, we noted that the game favors the attacker as he benefits more from increased resources than the defender. Further, the minimax defense produces roughly the same expected payoff as an easy-to-compute deterministic load based (DLB) defense when played against a minimax attack strategy. However, DLB performs more poorly than mini-max defense when faced with the attacker's best response to DLB. This is likely due to the presence of low-load yet high-payoff nodes, which we also found in our empirical analysis.