More security needed for smart meters

Smart meters could be a liability for privacy-minded consumers, as just about anyone can gather information from approximately 33 percent of all meters installed in the United States.

Technology has the ability to transform how we conduct day-to-day business, but new solutions can also come with risks if the right layered security measures are not in place. Case in point: smart meters.

A smart meter is a type of electricity meter that uses wireless networks to transmit information about the electricity and natural usage at a particular location to the power company. In the old days, the utility had to send a representative to the location to physically check an analog meter’s readings to ensure the property owner was billed accurately. With smart meters, utilities no longer need to send someone to check meters, as updates about energy usage can be monitored on an hourly basis to help end users track and manage their bills.

However, new research from the University of South Carolina showed that smart meters could be a liability for privacy-minded consumers. IDG news service found that with about $1,000 worth of equipment, just about anyone can gather information from approximately 33 percent of all meters installed in the United States, about 46 million meters in total.

Better smart meter security means encryption
The research found two crucial security flaws in the smart meters. For one, many old models send out a signal roughly every 30 seconds, even though the meters were only designed to transmit information when requested by the property owner or local utility. In addition, the information being sent was unencrypted, IDG reported.

Wenyuan Xu, an assistant professor at the university who was involved in the project, told the news source that the research team was able to capture information from a smart meter every two to 10 minutes. By intercepting signals from a house over specific intervals, someone could then determine if the building was occupied or not, thus leaving a home susceptible to burglars.

To deter the potential of criminals using smart meter readings to target theft locations, the researchers recommended that all new smart meters encrypt outgoing information. According to IDG, most of the new smart meters entering the marketplace include encryption technology.

“Should designers and manufacturers of smart meters or secondary devices decide to incorporate wireless technology for the purpose of communicating energy usage information, then that data must be securely transmitted and have privacy protection,” the research report said, according to IDG.

Do smart meters pose a significant privacy concern? What can smart meter owners do to better protect their privacy? Leave your comments below to let us know what you think about the report’s findings!

Scott Cornell

When he’s not knee deep in blogging and all things tech, Scott spends his free time playing ultimate Frisbee and watching foreign films. An expert in emerging tech trends, Scott always has his ear to ground for breaking news related to IT security.