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Is it just me, or does everything labeled a “smart” device seem to have privacy issues?
As it turns out, smart meters are no different.
Among other things, smart doorbells, smart video cameras, and smart meters are all a part of this wave of “advanced” home technology.
But since all of these devices transmit data wirelessly, they are all vulnerable.
In a nutshell, smart meters are a new way to measure the amount of electricity that you use in your home.
I’ve found that some of them look similar to the old meters, but the key difference is that the utility company doesn’t have to send a meter reader out to get the readings.
Instead, they can see your energy activity remotely.
This obviously raises a number of questions about privacy. What information is the utility company gathering exactly, and what are they doing with it?
Also, could somebody intercept this info if they wanted to?
Let’s take a look.
How Smart Meters Invade Your Privacy
Before, your analog meter would just produce a total of the amount of electricity you used. There weren’t really any specifics.
Smart meters, on the other hand, provide a lot more insight into your habits.
Smart meters also transmit data a lot more frequently.
They can see what appliances you are using as well as when and where you use electricity – all the way down to the moment you flip a light switch.
By analyzing that data, your utility company (or a hacker) would essentially know your entire schedule, such as when you’re eating, when you are sleeping, when you wake up…and when the house is vacant.
Now, think about how utility companies can use that information for marketing purposes, even selling it to other companies.
If you’re anything like me, you’d rather not have this information be so available – let alone being sold to other people.
The worst part is that many homeowners are more or less forced into these new smart meters.
That and paying a fee to keep your analog meter are often the only two options.
The problem is that no matter how many times utility companies say that they aren’t collecting certain information or selling information to other companies, there’s really no way to be sure.
Weaknesses and Vulnerabilities Within Smart Meters
As if the radiation they emit wasn’t bad enough, now we have to worry about a different kind of safety issue.
Similar to any “connected” device, smart meters are vulnerable, and they do have weaknesses.
The fact that they are connected to the smart grid is a problem in itself. Wireless technology is by nature more vulnerable.
It’s been argued that the protocols used in smart meters have been poorly implemented, leaving them open to attacks.
For instance, smart meters don’t usually require permission for new devices to join the network before they share the network key.
Smart meters also lack CPU and extensive memory resources, making them more vulnerable to memory corruption and other issues.
The code typically does not include security checks either.
Overall, there appears to be insufficient encryption, network segmentation, and meter monitoring.
Another problem is the inability to turn off your smart meter.
We all know that cellphones, computers, and other smart devices have privacy concerns as well, but we can at least customize our settings and turn them off.
We can shut down our GPS tracking or location settings, and we can choose whether or not to use certain apps known to track us.
With the smart meter, you don’t have that choice.
For billing purposes, the power company needs to know when you use electricity, so smart meters run continuously.
Lawsuits and Rulings
Much to their dismay, power companies and cities are getting sued over smart meters and their inherent privacy issues.
In Naperville, IL, for example, a group sued the city after a policy mandating that all residents have smart meters installed in their homes.
The court more or less ruled in favor of the utility companies. While they agreed that the data collected was protected by the Fourth Amendment, they also concluded that the power utilities weren’t violating this protection and that their collection habits were reasonable.
However, there was a case in Hawaii where a homeowner sued against the installation of a smart meter in his home and won.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) also challenged power companies in regard to data collection, similar to how they’ve done with cell phone companies.
If utility companies continue to force smart meters on consumers and be reckless with the data, I imagine the lawsuits will continue.
The louder people’s voices are, the more governments and state organizations will (hopefully) respond as well.
In 2011, the California Public Utilities Commission issued a requirement for utility companies to secure their data and other organizations have followed suit, though it’s unclear whether or not this is effective.
Is Data From a Smart Meter Secure?
There are, of course, measures in place to protect your information as it travels through the smart grid.
But my thought is this:
If the utility company is able to receive the transmission, who’s to say that somebody else couldn’t access it as well?
Hackers who gain access to your system would be able to see everything that your utility company sees.
They could also change the information or raise your electricity bill. If they are nice hackers, I suppose that they could lower your bill as well.
There are essentially three different types of security issues – attacks on the network, attacks on the hardware, and attacks on the data.
A hacker can also get into your smart meter after exposing Internet infrastructure issues. DoS and DdoS attacks are also possible.
Another thing that hackers can do is send malicious data as a way to physically harm your system.
For example, they could drain the battery or remotely disconnect your meter. Believe it or not, they could also shut down certain appliances.
They often target the real time clock (RTC) of the unit to change the real time.
There are really too many hacking methods for me to cover here, but the point is that there are a lot.
Hackers adapt to changes in technology so they are almost always able to find and exploit vulnerabilities if they want to.
So, if you are really concerned, you may want to see about switching back to the analog units – that is, if your power company will even let you without paying out the nose for it.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do smart meters have cameras?
No, they don’t have cameras. They do, however, have a 2-way radio system, which opens them up to hacker attacks.
Can a smart meter be hacked?
In short, yes they can. In my opinion, the biggest concern with hacking is that the hacker can use your utility usage to track when you’re home – and when you’re not.
As you can imagine, that type of information can be abused and used for nefarious purposes.
I hope this guide helped you learn a little more about the potential for smart meter privacy issues.
Don’t be afraid to face your utility company and fight for an analog meter!
We have more in our smart meter series, so check them out if you’re interested: