“Our basic assumption is that we have access to a high-wattage IoT botnet,” says Tohid Shekari, a PhD candidate at the Georgia Institute of Technology who contributed to the research, along with fellow PhD candidate Celine Irvine and professor Raheem Beyah. “In our scenarios, attacker one is a market player; he’s basically trying to maximize his own profit. Attacker two is a nation-state actor who can cause financial damage to market players as part of a trade war or cold war. The basic part of either attack is to look at price-load sensitivity. If we change demand by 1 percent, how much is the price going to change as a result of that? You want to optimize the attack to maximize the gain or damage.” An attacker could use their botnet’s power to increase demand, for instance, when other entities are betting it will be low. Or they could bet that demand will go up at a certain time with certainty that they can make that happen.
“The researchers caution that, based on their analysis, much smaller demand fluctuations than you might expect could affect pricing, and that it would take as few as 50,000 infected devices to pull off an impactful attack,” the report adds.
“Consumers whose devices are unwittingly conscripted into a high-wattage botnet would also be unlikely to notice anything amiss; attackers could intentionally turn on devices to pull power late at night or while people are likely to be out of the house. […] The researchers calculated that market manipulation campaigns would cause, at most, a 7 percent increase in consumers’ home electric bills, likely low enough to go unnoticed.”
The researchers say market manipulators could take home as much as $245 million a year, and cause as much as $350 million per year in economic damage.