Characterizing cyber-physical attacks on water distribution systems

Riccardo Taormina, Stefano Galelli, Nils Ole Tippenhauer, Elad Salomons, Avi Ostfeld

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This work contributes a modeling framework to characterize the effect of cyber-physical attacks (CPAs) on the hydraulic behavior of water distribution systems. The framework consists of an attack model and a MATLAB toolbox named epanetCPA. The former identifies the components of the cyber infrastructure (e.g., sensors or programmable logic controllers) that are potentially vulnerable to attacks, whereas the latter allows determining the exact specifications of an attack (e.g., timing or duration) and simulating it with EPANET. The framework is applied to C-Town network for a broad range of illustrative attack scenarios. Results show that the hydraulic response of the network to a cyber-physical attack depends not only on the attack specifications, but also on the system initial conditions and demand at the junctions. It is also found that the same hydraulic response can be obtained by implementing completely different attacks. This has some important implications on the design of attack detection mechanisms, which should identify anomalous behaviors in a water network as well as the cyber components being hacked. Finally, the manuscript presents some ideas regarding the next steps needed to thoroughly assess the risk of cyber attacks on water distribution systems.

Original languageEnglish
Article number04017009
JournalJournal of Water Resources Planning and Management - ASCE
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 May 2017
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 American Society of Civil Engineers.


  • Cyber security
  • Cyber-physical attacks
  • Cyber-physical systems
  • Smart water networks
  • Water distribution systems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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