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Hack attack threat

In a joint paper, Anderson, and fellow academic Shailendra Fuloria, previously outlined (6-page/119KB PDF) what they believe is a "strategic vulnerability" in how smart metering operates. They said that if hackers were able to break into a "head-end" hub where smart metering data might be collated they could cut the supply of energy across "tens of millions of households".

The reliance on software and applets to deliver smart metering successfully also exposes the technology to risks that those aspects of the systems could be hacked and tampered with, Anderson said. The way the 'keys' to this technology work, and who has access to that information, must be openly scrutinised by as many "eyeballs" as possible prior to being introduced to minimise the risk of attack, he said.

"The introduction of hundreds of millions of these meters in North America and Europe over the next ten years, each containing a remotely commanded off switch, remote software upgrade and complex functionality, creates a shocking vulnerability," Anderson said.

"An attacker who takes over the control facility or who takes over the meters directly could create widespread blackouts; a software bug could do the same," he said. "Regulators such as NIST and Ofgem have started to recognise this problem. There are no agreed solutions as yet ... possible strategies include shared control, as used in nuclear command and control; backup keys as used in Microsoft Windows; rate-limiting mechanisms to bound the scale of an attack; and local-override features to mitigate its effects."

Earlier this year two German researchers claimed that they had intercepted information sent between their smart meter devices and the servers of their energy supplier – German company Discovergy. Because the data was unencrypted the researchers said they were able to analyse the information, which they said was sent at two second intervals, and determine intimate details about their energy consumption.

The researchers said the information could be used to establish details such as when houses are occupied, what appliances were being used and even what TV programme was being shown as a result of the traits revealed in the smart meter data associated with the energy used.

The FBI has also expressed concern about smart metering fraud methods, according to computer security expert Brian Krebs. Krebs has claimed to be in possession of an FBI "cyber intelligence bulletin" that states that hackers have been able to change the settings on smart meters to record lower energy consumption than actually occurred. The FBI has also reported that magnets can be used to prevent meters recording "usage" thereby presenting the opportunity for fraudulent activity, according to Krebs' blog.

Copyright © 2012, Out-Law.com

Out-Law.com is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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