Well, who could possibly have seen that coming?

[sarc] No, really, this is completely unexpected, isn’t it? [/sarc]

A series of hacks perpetrated against so-called “smart meter” installations over the past several years may have cost a single electric company hundreds of millions of dollars annually, the FBI said in a cyber intelligence bulletin obtained by KrebsOnSecurity.

The US law enforcement agency said this was the first known report of criminals compromising the hi-tech meters, and that it expected this type of fraud to spread across the country as more utilities deploy smart grid technology.


… insiders and individuals with only a moderate level of computer knowledge are likely able to compromise meters with low-cost tools and software readily available on the internet.

Sometime in 2009, 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 2010, the bureau distributed an intelligence alert about its findings to select industry personnel and law enforcement officials.

Citing confidential sources, the FBI said it believed 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.

“These individuals are charging $300 to $1000 to reprogram residential meters, and about $3000 to reprogram commercial meters,” the alert states.

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.

I’ve always thought there was a certain amount that’s pretty dumb about ‘smart’ meters but that they could be hacked – and let’s face it, illegal meter fiddling has a long and inglorious history anyway – I thought was a foregone conclusion. Personally I have no clue at all how to fiddle an old fashioned meter and I’ve only ever met one person who claimed to have done it, and I took that with a pinch of salt, but if anyone can download the software from the internet I’d expect meter fiddling to become much more common. This doesn’t thrill me much since I’m stupid enough to be honest and so I’ll no doubt be paying someone else’s share once everyone in Victoria has a smart meter and hacking the fucking things has made its way here too.

And the way some of them can be hacked… oh dear!

The bureau also said another method of attacking the meters involved placing a strong magnet on the devices, which caused it to stop measuring usage, while still providing electricity to the customer.

“This method is being used by some customers to disable the meter at night when air-conditioning units are operational. 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.”

A magnet, FFS.

Because the meter continues to report electricity usage, it appears be operating normally. Since the meter is read remotely, detection of the fraud is very difficult. A spot check of meters conducted by the utility found that approximately 10 per cent of meters had been altered.”

Palm, this is face. Face, meet palm. I don’t suppose we can call a halt to the roll outs now, can we?

Posted on April 10, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. I’d decline to call so simple and old-school a method as placing a magnet next to the box ‘a hack’…!

  2. Green swindles – bound to become more common. As people realise they are being robbed by pointless green tariffs, some will use it as an excuse for scams of their own.

    • Sorry for inadvertently ignoring you. For some reason the spam filter trapped your comment and sent it to Purgatory. No idea why as nothing in that should have triggered it as far as I know.

      As to the comment itself, I think you’re probably right. People getting screwed will look for ways to do it back, not just to get their own back but eventually just to help make ends meet.

  3. These meters sound like a license to print money. A meter that has readings that can be changed from company HQ. Or turn off your house electricity from company HQ. What could possibly go wrong ?
    They also record every appliance in your house as it switches on and off so will be a handy
    ‘footprint’ of your life ( cat burglars – get timers set to come on when you’re out doing bad things)
    Oh and what about the 24/7 microwave radiation ?

    • The EM radiation is the least of all issues when almost everyone has a mobile phone and so many homes have wireless LANs, and frankly there have been so many health scares I wouldn’t necessarily believe whoever (or WHOever) it is beating this up this time either. Other concerns, yes, particularly the privacy ones and the costs, but most especially the fact that the demand for the bloody things is close to nonexistent suggests that we’re not getting them for out benefit but for someone else’s. Cui bono, as the man asked.

  4. the fact that the demand for the bloody things is close to nonexistent suggests that we’re not getting them for out benefit but for someone else’s. Cui bono, as the man asked.

    Quite obviously the power company so they don’t have to employ armies of minions to go around houses reading meters and so they can increase their overall profit margins.

    Equally, once you have a detailed plot of a families usage for 12-18 months you can pretty much ensure that their usage will remain constant over the next year and therefore have a fairly reliable indicator of future usage given things like weather patterns, bank holidays, etc.

    All of this additional detailed information can (if aggregated correctly) allow much better planning of future power needs and therefore limit the use of expensive purchase of available power during unexpected peaks.

    Unfortunately the ‘peeps’ will see no benefit from the installation of the smart meters as all of the additional profits will go to the energy suppliers and their shareholders.

    Sorry – I forgot, obviously the chavs who hack their meters will benefit, so it’s not all about providing increased profit margins to huge corporates.

    Oh and old Brian your friendly neighbourhood electricity/gas/water meter reader, well basically he’s on the fucking dole. Them’s the breaks matey.

  5. Why ‘Smart meters’ create higher bills. It’s all to do with peaks and surges in appliance loads apparently.

    See link; http://www.rense.com/general94/meters.htm

    Won’t stop the cheats, and is a good reason for installing a propane stove. Does tend to de-incentivise fitting an ‘Environmentally friendly’ heat pump, as their initial peak current load will flag up numerous times the plated values with a ‘Smart Meter’ and send your bills skywards.

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