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Operators Urged to Improve Smart Meter Security

By David Holmes on April 13, 2011

As Britain prepares to welcome first-generation smart meters on a nationwide scale, concern has mounted over the security of the devices.

According to security experts, smart meters may be compromised by hackers for a variety of reasons; furthermore, those doing the hacking may not be especially adept at computing, as freely available tools are likely to be adapted to exploit the energy monitoring equipment.

Many people might wonder why anyone would want to hack a domestic smart meter – are the potential benefits of doing so really that great? The answer, unfortunately, is that gaining control over smart meters offers potentially enormous financial rewards.

Senior Analyst, Alex Desbarres, of Datamonitor, explained: “A meter that provides numerous interval reads provides a utility with a great deal of commercially valuable information about how and when consumers use their energy. That really opens the relationship between the utilities and their clients to potential abuse”.

Meanwhile, Joshua Pennell, the Executive Director of internet security firm, IOActive, suggested that vulnerabilities could be exploited for more malicious purposes, such as causing disruption to power networks. Dean Keeling, of Centrica, added that British Gas took the security of its smart meters very seriously, stating: “We have a full-time internal team engaged in stress-testing”.

If smart meters installed in domestic properties are exploited by hackers, critical information pertaining to consumers could be sold to external sources. Energy companies could also exploit such data by monitoring the usage trends of consumers to formulate more profitable tariffs.

Concern over the issue of smart meter safety is only likely to increase until operators convince analysts and consumers that sufficient steps have been taken to secure data. Encrypting information – a measure apparently employed by BT – is arguably the minimum standard of protection that consumers ought to expect under existing data and privacy laws.

Despite the threat of security flaws, smart meters are likely to improve the way in which households consume energy. Armed with sufficient information, the average consumer can make informed choices about his energy consumption. When coupled with other energy-saving measures, such as loft insulation and double glazing, smart meters could also reduce the carbon footprint of homes across the UK.