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The law enforcement agency said this is the first known report of criminals compromising the hi-tech meters, and that it expects this type of fraud to spread across the country as more utilities deploy smart grid technology. Smart meters are intended to improve efficiency, reliability, and allow the electric utility to charge different rates for electricity at different times of day. But it appears that some of these meters are smarter than others in their ability to deter hackers and block unauthorized modifications.
Sometime in , an electric utility in Puerto Rico asked the FBI to help it investigate widespread incidents of power thefts that it believed was related to its smart meter deployment.
In May , the bureau distributed an intelligence alert about its findings to select industry personnel and law enforcement officials. Citing confidential sources, the FBI said it believes former employees of the meter manufacturer and employees of the utility were altering the meters in exchange for cash and training others to do so. The FBI believes that miscreants hacked into the smart meters using an optical converter device — such as an infrared light — connected to a laptop that allows the smart meter to communicate with the computer.
After making that connection, the thieves changed the settings for recording power consumption using software that can be downloaded from the Internet. This method does not require removal, alteration, or disassembly of the meter, and leaves the meter physically intact. The bureau also said another method of attacking the meters involves placing a strong magnet on the devices, which causes it to stop measuring usage, while still providing electricity to the customer.
The magnets are removed during working hours when the customer is not home, and the meter might be inspected by a technician from the power company. Because the meter continues to report electricity usage, it appears be operating normally. A spot check of meters conducted by the utility found that approximately 10 percent of meters had been altered.
The company did not respond to requests for comment on this story. The hacks described by the FBI do not work remotely, and require miscreants to have physical access to the devices. They succeed because many smart meter devices deployed today do little to obfuscate the credentials needed to change their settings, said according to Tom Liston and Don Weber , analysts with InGuardians Inc.
Liston and Weber have developed a prototype of a tool and software program that lets anyone access the memory of a vulnerable smart meter device and intercept the credentials used to administer it. The two researchers were slated to demo their smart meter hacking tools at the Shmoocon security conference earlier this year, but agreed to pull the presentation at the last minute at the request of several vendors and utilities that they declined to name.
Luckily we have worked with several of the utilities in the group. We have been able to stem the fears of all but one utility. We hope to have them on board very soon. Liston said utilities have become accustomed to deploying meters that can last 30 years before needing to be replaced, but that the advanced interactive components being built into modern smart meters requires a much more thoughtful and careful approach to security.
Robert Former , a security engineer at smart meter manufacturer Itron , said he hopes that researchers continue to push the industry toward adopting technologies that can withstand these and potentially other, as-yet-undiscovered attacks.
The thinking is if we keep this kind of thing secret, nobody will find it or exploit it. This entry was posted on Monday, April 9th, at You can follow any comments to this entry through the RSS 2. Both comments and pings are currently closed. The law allows the maximum penalty of 3 months in prison or a 25 to dollar fine for altering or interfering with equipment, but for interfering with equipment so as to change or stop the metering of electricity there is up to a 10, dollar fine.
You can find that here: Smart grid technology is critical if we are to get off oil and develop alternate energy. The idiots that design these things are going to ruin the future for this goal. I am a patriot, and energy concerns are literally become a national security issue!
This is too important to muck up now. They need to get their ducks in a row now!! Smart grids will help individuals pay for their solar and electric vehicle costs by selling stored or excess power back to the energy companies. This will ensure the viability of the future of alternate energy and get North America off foreign dependence. Doing so will kill two birds with one stone. Less atmospheric carbon and more energy security. I personally pick security as the most important one of the two IMO.
These objectives can be met without deploying millions of attack points. The big reason for having a smart meter is to use time of day pricing. You really need the intelligence to measure usage and time right at the house.
The problem with metering only at the substation is that you cannot get the information specific to each endpoints consumption. The only other option would be to take the consumption at the substation and divide that evenly among the users served by that sub. Sounds okay in theory, right? What about those users that have a manufacturer right next door or any other high volume user?
Tell you one thing, the high volume user would absolutely love it. Bad software is not enough to stop technology. Just look at what became of the internet, despite windows 95, windows 98 and internet-explorer Cyber-security is the least of the worries about smart metering. The health, privacy and security risks make it a BAD idea all around. See this Jerry Day YouTube video: JCitizen is way behind the times.
America is awash with numerous energy sources, real proven ones unlike wind and solar which are undependable. While electric cars are now presently economically impractical, nuclear powered electric utilities can supply constant cheap electricity but environmentalism prevents this move.
JCitizen should know by now that his favorite boutique energy sources are loosing favor among practical people and now only promoted by leftist politicians who want to control all energy, sources and distribution, in this country. Smart grids are designed primarily to allow government utilities to ration energy usage at will. Green energy is going the way of climate change, science and common sense are proving the folly of dependence upon unproven pipe dreams.
I suggest you are the one behind the times. We are already using wind energy with great dispatch in the middle regions of the US, and as this is wind alley, it is actually quite dependable. The local coal plant has to shut down, more and more often, because new wind farms are added monthly! Now BP is building a HUGE wind farm that will cover three or more counties in Kansas, and other states are rapidly expanding this resource.
Both states are solving the infrastructure problem by expanding the availability of fueling points everywhere for the public. However smart grid technology is way more practical, precisely because the infrastructure would be cheaper, over all if, adopted by our local governments and states. This would more than help pay for the extra cost of the technology as utility companies would not have to expand their generating facilities and this would also remove the harmonic aspect of wind generation.
Kits are becoming popular to this end. As far as solar power — we are already designing solar thermal municipal sites that store excess energy in salt tanks, that continue to generate power through the night. For PV solar plants, new cheaper batteries are entering the market right now that on present analysis, can make storing excess energy cheaper than thermal storage solution.
So I still say your arguments are not only invalid, but we are bypassing the government and anyone who is reticent on this subject, and doing it anyway! It is a no brainer — because the costs are paying for the added or replaced infrastructure. We will replace big oil despite what the politics or lobbyist do, and it is not even a political football anymore, because the economical gains trump any argument against the new technology.
Doing that is even easier than trying to pass a bond issue with the public. He kept pointing out easy ways to circumvent various measures. The best solution seems to be monitoring usage, comparing actual to reported, then investigating differences.
This reduces the overall amount of tamper-resistant and fault-tolerant systems that must be deployed. Such systems are quite expensive. Smart meters, dumb deployment? No verification that a person accessing the device is legit? OTOH, another method of attacking the meters involves placing a strong magnet on the devices, which causes it to stop measuring usage is an indication of a pretty dumb meter… I mean, really, a magnet?
Finally, the original I think example of paradigm shifting without a clutch: Magnets would work on older electro-mechanical meters whether there was smart technology or not. The only difference would be that now, without a regular meter reader, the power company would be less likely to lay eyes on a meter. Magnetic interference could be solved with a simple metal shield around the meter to block the magnetic field.
I would imagine that the reason the electromechanical meters were hung out in a glass bowl was some sort of tamper protection from years ago. Looking at on old meter you will notice that you can observe all the mechanical moments of the meter from that glass.
It could be that meter readers would occasionally inspect the movement through the glass to both monitor for failure and for tampering. It requires mu metal, not ordinary metal.
Magnets never effected mechanical meter operation…I should say no one ever used one powerful enough. A large read really dangerous NIB magnet might do. That said usage is tracked historically for a property, anomalies in usage are detected and then that property is watched and remotely metered sometimes for years by revenue assurance. Then comes the knock on the door. Read the smart-meter literature — they already have Hall-effect detectors built in to detect this very thing. It only adds a few cents for the IC chip.
The optical port is something in dumb meters as well. The only thing about them being Smart that makes it harder is the fact that utility personnel have to travel to the site less, thus making detection a bit harder.
Personally I believe that the study was unfairly biased against Smart Meters. If they were truly Smart I use to work at a company that made Smart Meters then detection would of even been easier, because the meters could of communicated back any strange programming.
I work for the largest utility in California and I work with and around meters all day, I see between K a day. While it is true they can be reprogrammed via the port this almost never happens with residential smart meters.