David Kirkpatrick

August 2, 2010

“Smart grid” electric meters and hackers

Food for uneasy thought.

I have a smart grid meter on my house. At the time it was installed I liked the idea because they more easily allow you to sell electricity back to the grid, you know like if you have a solar array on your roof and produce more than you use (if you read this blog often at all you know I’m very interested in solar and I’d love to have an array on my sun-drenched roof right now). This news gives me quite a bit of pause on smart grid meters.

From the link:

The hurried deployment of smart-grid technology could leave critical infrastructure and private homes vulnerable to hackers. Security experts at the Black Hat conference in Las Vegas last week warned that smart-grid hardware and software lacks the necessary safeguards to protect against meddling.

Utilities are being encouraged to install this smart-grid technology–network-connected devices to help intelligently monitor and manage power usage–through funding from the U.S. government’s 2009 stimulus package. The smart systems could save energy and automatically adjust usage within homes and businesses. Customers might, for example, agree to let a utility remotely turn off their air conditioners at times of peak use in exchange for a discount.

But to receive the stimulus money, utilities will have to install new devices across their entire customer base quickly. Security experts say that this could lead to problems down the road–as-yet-unknown vulnerabilities in hardware and software could open up new ways for attackers to manipulate equipment and take control of the energy supply.

Smart enough? This image shows the interior of a smart grid meter tested by Mike Davis of IOActive.
Credit: Mike Davis

2 Comments »

  1. I hear this concern raised all the time. The grid is insecure right now and vulnerable to hackers.

    Comment by Justine — August 2, 2010 @ 6:17 pm

  2. Smart grid issues to consider:
    1) Isolated public testing of smart-meters show lower prices, but if all consumers save money at the same time, then electric company revenue will fall. How will electric companies get investment dollars to upgrade the entire grid with revenues declining? Real-life math shows that taxpayers and stimulus dollars are paying for smart meters, so electric prices have to increase for overall smart-grid success.

    2) Your energy consumption peaks just as you arrive home from work and adjust heat/air, turn on lights, shower, cook food, and turn on TV.

    3) If electric company investors make more money by defining peak-price-times to their favor, as will surely happen, when will off-peak prices be available, and how will you know without wrangling at a website set up by those investors? Individuals could end up bidding for electricity in a less-than-transparent seller’s market.

    4) Taxpayer-funded stimulus plus electric rate surcharges in Europe and the US are paying for new smart meters. The meters are imported from China. They replace local workers. The new meters add value to electric companies by laying off local workers, and creating built-in acceptance of dynamic pricing [higher bills]. These actions make electric companies more valuable to investors. Where is the guaranteed benefit for taxpayers and rate payers that are financing the added industry value? And why aren’t these financiers receiving ownership value for their investment?

    4) In Britain, Hong Kong investor Mr Li outbid Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (and others) for ownership of electric-supply assets serving 8 million British households (offer open until Oct24). Once your smart meter is installed, who owns the switch controlling that meter?

    Comment by Gene Haynes — August 3, 2010 @ 1:03 am


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