Reliability of a Contamination-Detection Sensor Network in Water Distribution Systems during a Cyber-Physical Attack

Gopinathan R. Abhijith, Elad Salomons, Avi Ostfeld

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The vastness of water distribution systems (WDS) makes them vulnerable to exposure to different types of accidental/intentional contamination. Although most such contamination events that occurred in the recent past were accidental, criminal intent was involved in a few. Considering the accessibility of WDS and the potentially harmful outcomes of drinking-water contamination, online water-quality monitoring sensors are typically positioned in selected locations throughout WDS as a preventive strategy. These sensors, once positioned, communicate over a cyber-infrastructure layer and are liable to cyber-physical attacks—the sensor and/or its communication system becoming compromised or the sensor network becoming malfunctioned such that part of its components is deactivated. However, the sensor network placement state-of-the-art has thus far overlooked these cyber-physical attack scenarios. The current study attempts to overcome this limitation in the state-of-the-art by developing and demonstrating a methodology for evaluating the impact of a cyber-physical attack on a sensor network, compromising its functionality partially. Our proof-of-concept, using a simple network and a straightforward cyber-physical attack scenario, has revealed the vast potential of examining the performance of sensor networks under accidental/intentional malfunctioning and providing valuable information for decision makers in water utilities and regulators.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3669
JournalWater (Switzerland)
Issue number22
StatePublished - Nov 2022
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 by the authors.


  • cyber-physical attacks
  • sensor placement
  • water distribution systems
  • water quality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Biochemistry
  • Aquatic Science
  • Water Science and Technology


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