SAN FRANCISCO (AP) | Computer-security researchers say new
“smart” meters that are designed to help deliver electricity
more efficiently also have flaws that could let hackers
tamper with the power grid in previously impossible ways. At
the very least, the vulnerabilities open the door for
attackers to jack up strangers’ power bills. These flaws
also could get hackers a key step closer to exploiting one
of the most dangerous capabilities of the new technology,
which is the ability to remotely turn someone else’s power
on and off.
The attacks could be pulled off by stealing meters, which
can be situated outside of a home, and reprogramming them.
Or an attacker could sit near a home or business and
wirelessly hack the meter from a laptop, said Joshua Wright,
a senior security analyst with InGuardians Inc. The firm was
hired by three utilities to study their smart meters’
resistance to attack.
These utilities, which he would not name, have already done
small deployments of smart meters and plan to roll the
technology out to hundreds of thousands of power customers,
Mr. Wright told the Associated Press. There is no evidence
the security flaws have been exploited, although Mr. Wright
said a utility could have been hacked without knowing it.
InGuardians said it is working with the utilities to fix the
Power companies are aggressively rolling out the new meters.
In the U.S. alone, more than 8 million smart meters have
been deployed by electric utilities and nearly 60 million
should be in place by 2020, according to a list of publicly
announced projects kept by the Edison Foundation, an
organization focused on the electric industry.
Unlike traditional electric meters that merely record power
use - and then must be read in person once a month by a
meter reader - smart meters measure consumption in real
time. By being networked to computers in electric utilities,
the new meters can signal people or their appliances to take
certain actions, such as reducing power usage when
electricity prices spike.
But the very interactivity that makes smart meters so
attractive also makes them vulnerable to hackers, because
each meter essentially is a computer connected to a vast
There are few public studies on the meters’ resistance to
attack, in part because the technology is new. However, last
summer, Mike Davis, a researcher from IOActive Inc., showed
how a computer worm could hop between meters in a power grid
with smart meters, giving criminals control over those
Alan Paller, director of research for the SANS Institute, a
security research and training organization that was not
involved in Mr. Wright’s work with InGuardians, said it
proved that hacking smart meters is a serious concern.
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