smart meter hack

A smart meter hack is the unauthorized access of a smart meter or its data transmissions for the purpose of obtaining user information or altering communications between the device and the responsible utility. A smart meter is an Internet-capable device that measures the energy, water or natural gas consumption of a building or home.

Smart meter hacking is usually conducted for one of two purposes. The owner of the premises where a smart meter is located might hack the device to alter transmissions so that use is under-reported and will be billed for accordingly. An external party, on the other hand, might hack the device’s data transmissions to obtain information about activities within the premises.

There are a number of ways to interfere with smart meters. One simple method involves attaching strong magnets to the outside of a smart meter, which interferes with the device’s detection of energy use. Another approach involves use of a tool called an optical converter to interact with the smart meter through the optical port used for diagnostics.

If data transmissions aren’t sufficiently protected, external hackers can interrupt communications between a smart meter and the utility to access useful information. Usage data may be measured in sequences of as little as two-second bursts, which can yield surprising detailed information about activities within the premises. Usage patterns over time can indicate, for example, whether residents are home or out, or if an appliance has been left on. The complex patterns of brightness associated with specific content can identify what television shows and movies are being watched.

The potential also exists for a malware attack that would disrupt the energy grid. According to Raj Samani of the Cloud Security Alliance, smart meter security breaches to date include “insecure meters, hacking of customer details, denial of service attacks and suspected infiltration by foreign intelligence services.”


See also: smart grid, smart building, home automation, Smart Grid Overview, smart grid sensor, pervasive computing


Continue reading about smart meter hacks:

> Smart meter and smart grids: Security risk or opportunity?

> Book chapter: Addressing smart grid security issues

> Sophos: Smart meter hacking can disclose which TV shows and movies you watch.

> NetworkWorld: FBI warns smart meter hacking may cost utility companies $400 million a year.

This was last updated in April 2012

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