Journal of Power and Energy Engineering, 2015, 3, 77-84
Published Online April 2015 in SciRes. http://ww w.scirp.org/journal/jpee
How to cite this paper: Yin, H.X., Xiao, R. and Lv, F.F. (2015) Analysis of Causes and Actual Events on Electric Power Infra-
structure Impacted by Cyber Attack. Journal of Power and Energy Engineering, 3, 77-84.
Analysis of Causes and Actual Events on
Electric Power Infrastructure Impacted by
Hongxu Yin1, Rui Xiao2, Fenfei Lv1
1The Power Company of Dezhou, Shandong, Dezhou, China
2College of Mechanical & Electrical Engineering, Jiaxing University, Jiaxing, China
Received January 2015
With the development of electric power technology, information technology and military technol-
ogy, the impact of cyber attack on electric power infrastructure has increasingly become a hot spot
issue which calls both domestic and foreign attention. First, main reasons of the impact on power
infrastructure caused by cyber attack are analyzed from the following two aspects: 1) The depen-
dence of electric power infrastructure on information infrastructure makes cyber attack issues in
information field likely to affect electric power field. 2) As regards to the potential threat sources,
it will be considerably profitable to launch cyber attacks on electric power infrastructure. On this
basis, this paper gives a classified elaboration on the characteristics and the possibilities of cyber
attacks on electrical infrastructu re s. Fi nally, the recently published actual events of cyber attacks
in respect of threat sources, vulnerabilities and assaulting modes are analyzed and summarized.
Cyber Attack, Electric Power Infrastructure, Information Infrastructure, Depend ence
Electric power infrastructure provides public power supply services for social production and house ho l d use.
Recently, with the development of computer and communication technology, information and communication
syste ms become an essential part to support the normal operation of electric power infrastructure. According to
the relevant standards set by International Electro-technical Commission (IEC), the future development of pow-
er system will be the common construc tion and management of electric power infrastructure and information in-
frastruc tur e .
Cyber attack takes advantage of network vulnerability and security flaw to attack on system and resources .
For power system, monitoring and communication equipme nt of electric power infrastruc ture are the direct tar-
get of cyber attack. But because of the electric power infrastructure’s dep endency on information infrastructure,
cyber attack will affect the sa fe and and stable operation of power system  . In view of the importance of
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electric power infrastructure and cyber attack’s characteristics of low cost, wide range and hidden action ,
cyber attack will become a potential threat that we may not neglect  -.
Currently, many countries, mainly the U.S., ha ve raised the impact of cyber attack on electric power infra-
struc t ur e to nation-state level. The Homeland Security Department（DHS）has or ganized three cyber storm ex-
ercises since 2006 to 2010, and electric power infrastructure are s ignifica n t imaginary target . An Israeli-US
strike on Iranian nuclear plants  becomes the focus of the international concern in 2011. According to this
development trend, cyber attack on electric power infrastructure will be an important means of network infor-
mation war , which needs to be paid high attention and intensive study.
This paper is organized focusing on the impact on power infrastructure caused by cyber attack. And the back-
ground and current situation of the problem are discussed to draw attentio n of national related departments, en-
terprises and research institutes. This paper analyses main reasons of the impact on power infrastructure caused
by cyber attack, and summarizes characteristics of existing cyber attack. Fur t he rmore , the impact of recently
published actual event s of cyber attacks on electric power infrastructure is analyzed.
2. Main Reasons of the Impact on Power Infrastructure Caused by Cyber Attack
2.1. The Dependence of Electric Power Infrastructure on Information Infrastruc ture
According to the IEC standards above, the power system can be divided into two parts, electric power infra-
structure and information infrastructure. Electric power infrastructure, often called power primary system, is
composed of power generation, transmission, transfor mation and distribution equipment, and its function is to
lower the voltage of electrical energy ge ner a te d step by step by transmission and transformation equipment and
then transfer the electrical energy to distribution system. At last the electrical energy is supplied to customers
through distribution line. Information infrastructure, usually called power secondary sy ste m, is composed of
power monitoring system, power telecommunic ation, data network, etc. Power monitoring system are the busi-
ness processing systems and smart devices based on computer and network technology, whose function is to
monitor and control the production and operation process of the power grid and power plants .
The construction and development of information infrastructure are natural products of the develo pme nt of
communications and information technology, and also the objective requirements of the development of power
system to a certain degree, aiming to improve the safety and economy of power system operation.
Interdependence of in fr a st ruct ur e s is the interrelation or influence of the unions of 2 infras tr uc tur es. Generally,
this dependence can be divided into 4 types . The first type is physical dependence, which refers to the
physical dependence existed between the unions of 2 infrastructures in the form of material flow. The seco nd
one is infor mation dependence, which refers to the infor mation dependence existed between the unions of 2 in-
frastruc tur e s in the form of info r mation flow. The third one is geographical dependence, which means that the
unions of 2 infrastruc tures are adjacent geographically and the incident in this site may affect both of the infr a-
struc t ur e s. The last one is lo gic d ependence, which means that the dependence exists between the unions of 2
infrastructures, but it can’t be attr ibuted to any of interdependence relationships discussed above.
C yber security is the negative factors existed in information infrastructure, and severity of its influence on
electric power infrastructure depends on the electric power infrastructure’s dependence on information infr a-
struc t ur e .
Generally, the units of electri city po wer infrastructure can be divided into three classes, namely plants, subs-
tations, and lines, which constitute the entire electricity network. Information infr a s tr uc t ur e , as it provides ser-
vice to electric power infrastructure, exists in power plant monitoring system and substation automatic system
corresponding to the units above. These systems mainly sati sf y the units’ own needs with a relatively small ser-
vice scope, and they can realize local automation function, such as protection and operation and control func-
tions based on station control level.
From a global perspective, the operating state of power system is adjusted based on the variation of load. So it
is necessary to acquire global monitoring information and adjust generator’s output power reasonably according
to the variation of load to ensure safety and economic operation of the system. These functions are based on lo-
cal function, and realized by supervisory control and data acquisition/energy management system (SCADA/
The growth of load and scale expa ns i o n of power grid proposes a higher request of safety, promoting the de-
velopme nt of wide area measurement and protection control system. The realization of wide area measurement
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and protection control system is also based on the collection, analysis and control of global information. Com-
pared with SCADA/EMS , this requires more information and higher real-time character -. To satisfy the
demand for uninterrupted power supply, it is essential to ensure the safety operation or instant recover y of in-
formation infra struc tur e when suffering internal fault or external attack . The impact of infor mation infra-
structure on electric power infrastructure will be negative if the mo ni to r ing can’t be conducted real-time or be-
ing taken advantage of.
In summary, information i nfrastructure serves electric power infrastructure in power system. In turn, electric
power infr astr ucture depends on information infrastructure. The dependence’s working point is substation auto-
matic system or power plant monitoring system, but is amp lified through the function of SC ADA /EMS and wide
area measurement and protection control system.
2.2. The Concept of Cyber Attack and Motivation Analysis
2.2.1. The Concept of Cyber Attack
According to the concept in the field of information security, cyber attack takes advantage of loophole and secu-
rity vulnerabilities existing in the network to attack on system and resources.
Information infrastructure serving the power system to a great extent belongs to typical industrial control sys-
tem. Cyber attack specified to those systems is generally defined as attack on the be havio r of computer-based
industrial control system without per mission, aiming at dest ro ying or lowering the function of industrial control
According to the physical security and network security guidelines of substation estab lished by IEEE, cyber
attack specified to substation refers to invading substation through possible network and oper ating or interfering
with electronic equipment . Equipment operated or interfed with include digital relay protection devices,
fault recorder, automatics, substatio n-control level co mputer, PLC and communication interfaces .
2.2.2. The Benefit of Cyber Attack
Motivation of cyber attack de r ive s from the aggressor’s increasing economic or political interests. Compared
with the traditional physical attack, cyber attack features with hidden action, low cost and wide range . Cyber
attack can implement aggressive behavior from any access network point of information infrastructure without
approaching physical device. An attacker needs only relevant knowledge of the network and not special funding.
Once an attack on electric power monitoring equipment implemented, some primary system equipment operate,
possibly resul ting in power system cascading failure and has larger influence sphere.
2.2.3. Threat Sources of Cyber Attack
Combined IEC 62351 standard  and reported domestic and international cyber attac k, threat sources of cyber
attack includes the following types.
1) Industrial espionage
Industrial espionage is becoming a major threat in higher power system marketization countries. Competition
between enterprises increases motivation of illegal acquisition of information. And it is possible to interfere the
operation of the competitors’ e q uipment and improve their earnings.
2) Cyber hackers
Hackers usually take the Internet as a major gateway to attack, and gain profit by destroying cyber securi t y.
The profit may be monetary, industrial, political, social or the curiosit y that whether the challenge of intrusion
network will be successful .
3) Viruse s
Similar to hackers, vir uses and worms are typical attack taking advantage of the Internet. However, some vi-
ruses and worms may spread to Inte r net-isolated system by embedding into software or removable storage de-
vice. These viruse s include middle attacks viruse s, s pywar e gaining power system data and other trojan hor se.
Larceny has the most immediate purpose, namely attacker taking something (such as e q ui pment , data or
knowle dge ) away without permission. Generally speaking, the main motivation is to obtain economic benefits.
Under the smart grid environment, the i nteractio n of grid operators and user is emphasized. To tamper energy
metering data through cyber attack is likely to develop into a new way of stealing electric power .
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Terrorism is a threat which has minimum probability of occurrence. But it may bring serious consequences
due to the purpose of ma xim izing the physical, financial, social and political damage.
6) Military action
Due to its specificity, electr ic power infrastructure is always taken as a priority target for military action. For
example, US Army used graphite bombs to destroy the power system in Gulf War and the Kosovo War . In
recent years, with the mode and destr uc ti ve ne s s of cybe r attack increasing, physical attack gradually fades out of
sight. And electric powe r infrastructure has become a potential target of cyber attacks, drawing military’s atte n-
3. Cyber Attacks against Electric Power Infrastructure
3.1. Classified by the Location of Attack
Depending on different location of cyber attack, attack can be classified as local attack, remote attack and pseu-
do remote attack.
Local attack occurs in the LAN, and remot e attack occurs outside the location of the network the target be-
longs to. Pseudo remote attack is an attack that internal personnel covering up the identity of their attacker gain
necessary information about the target from local and attack from the exte r na l, causing external invasion phe-
nome no n .
Local attack needs to be physically close to the target. But local electric power monitoring system (e.g. S ub s-
tation Automation System) usually adopt perfect physical isolation means, so it is difficult for attacker to reach
the target, let alone attack. Remo te attack can invade co mputers in control center and other critical equipment
through any network connected to the power of information and communication network, utilizing the system
vulnerabilities and unsound security and confidentiality mechanisms. In comparison, remote attack is most like-
ly to occur . Pseudo remote attack needs sp ies in power company, so it is less likely to occur.
3.2. Classified by Attack Mechanism
According to the mec hanis m, attack can be classified as denial service attack, repla y attack, middle attack and
reprograming the device .
1) Denial service attack (Do s)
Denial service attack occurs when excessive communication resources are occupied by an attacker so that the
resource is temporarily unavailable when user needs to access, effecting the availability of information. In at-
tacks against electric power infrastructure, attacker keeps sending forged packets in the communication channel,
making the normal communication between the control center and RTU unavailable. The control center can’t
receive the power terminal information trans mitted by RTU, meanwhile the control information issued by the
control center can’t be delivered. If the grid is in a state of emergency at the moment, the consequences would
2) Replay attack
For replay attack, it is necessary to mo nitor network information flow first, and id e ntify infor mation repre-
senting key actions. The information is sent back into the network at specific times to re-simulate the previous
occurrence. In electric power infrastructure, attacker can identify and intercept breaker tripping control instruc-
tion by network monitoring and replaying this i n structio n when necessary, resulting in breaker malfunction.
3) Middle attack
Attacker’ action is imposed between two communicating nodes, and it deceives the sender that it is a true re-
cipients or the recip ients that it is the real sender. In this way, the attacker can tampe r , delete or inse r t arbitrary
information between two communicating nodes. In electric power infrastructure, attacker can be a middleman
between RTU and control center, which intercept emergency fault information sent by RTU and replace with
normal or alarm information, so that system does not take action in case of failure. Besides, it intercept control
instruction from control center and delete, modify or insert the instruction. After such an attack, the confiden-
tiality and integrity of information is completely lost. If the attacker is well aware of the power system operating
state, then this attack would be devastating.
4) Reprograming the device
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If RTU, IED and other equipment are reprogrammed, the attacker can easily implant malicious Trojans, dis-
rupt ing the normal operation of equipment. This kind of attack is not common at present. The reasons mainly lie
in two aspects: a) Remote programming of equipment is not allowed in the design of syste m genera lly, and local
invasion programming needs approaching the eq ui pment . But if the equi pment is a va ilable , direct physical
damage will be easier than reprogrammed and the de structio n is more severe; b) As the equipment is numerous
and geographically distributed, reprogramming attack is not suitable to launch a massive attack, a nd the re-
quirement of programming capabilities of attacker is higher.
With the development of technology, the likelihood of such an attack still exists. For example, IEC 61850
standard proposes that IED equip me nt can be remote ly configur e d . Under the background of digital substa-
tion widely used and open of remote configuration interface in the future, such an attack would be more practic-
4. Case Study of Cyber Attack against Electric Power Infrastructure
4.1. Cyber Attack Instance
In recent years, cyber attacks on the Internet have been very serious, but reports about cyber attacks against
electric power infrastructure are relatively few. Overall, the power monitoring system suffering from cyber at-
tacks are on the rise. Some studies suggest that the current reported cyber attacks are likely just the tip of the
iceberg. Due to fear of responsibility and corporate image damage, as well as commercial competition and other
issues, most companies are reluctant to report such incidents . Some examples of cyber attacks aga i ns t elec-
tric power infrastructure are summarized as follows.
1) In the 8 - 14 blackout in USA and Canada in 2003, worm hindered the recovery from power blackout in
Ontario in Canada to normal power supply .
2) In March 2007, U.S. Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) conducted a
cyber attack experiment, caus ing generator self-destructio n. The experiment was undertaken by the Idaho Na-
tional Laboratory (INL) of energy, and it si mulated a cyber attack against the copy of Aurora plant’s control
system. The attack invaded SCADA syste m and changed the generator’s operation traj ectory. Then the genera-
tor was out of control and galloping, final smoking and da ma ge d. DHS believes that this type of cyber a ttack, if
taking large-scale coordinated control, can damage electric power infrastructure for months. And DHS is reluc-
tant to disclose specific details of the simulation action  .
3) On October 16, 2007, cyber security expert Ira-Winkler published a paper on the Internet Evolution site
entitled “How to take down the power grid”. This paper points out that it is not difficult to conduct cyber attack
against power information control system, and he entered into American power control system as early as ten
years ago. Ira-Winkler and his team have been hired by a power company, conducting test and evaluation of the
vulner a b i li t y of computer systems for power grid. They can damage the browser, intrude into the control net-
work of the power plant and monitor the power production and distribution, thus simulating the effects on the
normal operation of the electric power infrastructure. Ira-Winkler noted that they can not only enter into
SC ADA system, but also download the file record CIO and CEO via cyber attack .
4) U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CAI) pointed out that the bl ac ko ut , which occurred in 2005 and 2007 in
Brazil, was due to hacke r ’ s cyber attack against the power control system .
5) In an on-line special report of U.S. Public Broadcasting Company (PBS), an intervie wee signa t ur e d ha c ker
claimed that he could make the grid collapsed by clicking on some button s. It is important that hackers, vandals
and terrorist attackers think it is possible, not the truth of this se ntence . And this report reflects that they have
targeting the power grid to attack .
6) In April 2009, Wall Street Journal quoted the saying of an unnamed national security o fficial. He said that
cyber spies in some countries had came into contact with U.S. power grid and installed malicious software tool
used to shut down certain services. They also expressed the concern that a malicious hacker may attack during a
crisis or war in the future , although this intrusion hadn’t disrupt the normal operation of the power grid .
7) The Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran was attacked by the computer worm Stuxnet on October 26, 2010.
This worm invaded into the internal of the nuclear plant via USB device and destro yed the centrifuge in nuclear
facilities. Meanwhile, the worm used fake data to deceive the operator through repla y mode. Thus the virus in-
vasion was undetectable to the operators. The virus is specific to Simatic WinCC SCADA system produced by
Siemens company, which is used as industrial control systems in many critical infrastructures in China. Due to
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the powerful function of Stuxnet virus, the team behind this virus must have superb professional technical staff
and strong financial backing. The United States and Israel admitted that they developed the virus jointly soon
A brief analysis of the actual events of cyber attacks mentioned above in respect of threat sources, vulnerabil-
ities and assaulting modes is available according to the reports, though the relevant information is limited.
4.2. Threat Sources An aly s is
From the perspective of threat source, the instances above can be analyzed as follows. Threat of instance 1 is de-
rived from the worm. Instanc e 2 and 6 are associated with military action. Insta nc e 3, 4 and 5 are typical hacker
attack. Instance 7 is relatively complex. Due to its powerful destructive capability, stuxnet is not simple com-
puter viruses and closely related to the national military behavior. Instance s show that among the threat sources
of cyber attacks, hacker, viruses and military action are the most typical. For in-depth analysis, there are many
inherent relationships between these three threat sources. And these relations can’t be clearly grasped from the
current public information.
4.3. Assaulting Mode Analys is
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From the perspective of assaulting mode, insta nce 2, 5 and 7 are more likely replay attack. And instanc e 2 and
5 are possibly middle attack. Instanc e 1 and 6 are typically denial service attacks. The assaulting mode of in-
stance 3 and 4 are not clear, and there exist multifold possibility.
According to the occurrence mechanism of the attacks, combined with instance analysis, qualitative compari-
sons are done according to the implementation difficulty and the severity of consequences (shown in F igure 1).
1) Denial service attack is easy to conduct as its various means and no need for the attacker having a deep
understanding of the power system. Judging from the consequences, the i n fl uence of denial service attac k is rel-
atively small because it can’t directly operate key equipments despite its huge influence on monitoring process.
Figure 1. The comparison of impact and difficulty among the four cyber attack ways.
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2) Replay attack and middle attack have much in common. And their essence is to achieve the purpose of ma-
liciously operating critical equipment through attac ker deceiving the recipient of information by certain means.
But the difference between the two is that the replay attack has simp le r means, and the goals able to achieve is
3) Attack instances of reprogramming devices haven’t been found by far. But the occurr ence of this kind of
attack is possible in the future. Once succeed, the impact will be huge.
In summary, main reasons of the impact on power infrastructure caused by cyber attack are analyzed in respect
of consequences and threats in this paper. The dependence of electric power infrastructure on information infra-
structure deter mines the ser ious ne s s of the consequences of cyber attack. The main threats are diverse. The se-
rio usness of the consequences improves the profit of cyber attacks, enhanc ing the motivation of attacks. Com-
bined with the main assaulting mode of cyber attacks and currently reported attacks events, the impact of cyber
attack on electric power infrastructure will gradually increase from the number and extent.
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