10 Nightmare Scenarios From the Internet of Things

The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street
Substations pose one point of entry for an attack on the power grid. silkwayrain/iStock/Thinkstock

It's a sweltering summer's night, so at first you assume that a rolling brownout has plunged your neighborhood into darkness. But as days roll by with no improvement, and as even your emergency radio remains silent, you begin to hear rumors of something much more serious. Someone -- possibly cyberterrorists or a Russian or Chinese faction -- has brought down the power grid. Backup systems are failing, too, and even now underwater tunnels are filling with carbon monoxide and water, doomed by dead fans and lifeless pumps. Roads are snarled, emergency systems are overloaded. Is this the prelude to a larger attack? Has it already begun?

According to a 2014 Federal Energy Regulatory Commission report, knocking out a mere nine key electric-transmission substations could plunge America into a wide-scale blackout. Some of these stations are unmanned, remote and poorly secured against physical, let alone electronic, breaches [source: Smith].

America's top security personnel admit that infrastructural vulnerabilities exist and that terrorists see cyberwarfare as a key battleground. Meanwhile, China, Russia and other countries have successfully cracked the U.S. electrical grid and left behind potentially disruptive programs [sources: Gorman; PBS NewsHour; Schmidt]. These dangers only deepen as we make smarter systems and allow them to interact over the Internet.