Your smart electricity meter could be a security risk

A new report details how hackers could use your smart meter to figure out what you're doing at home -- and when you're out.

Michelle Starr Science editor
Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.
Michelle Starr
2 min read

Smart meters can do more than monitor your electricity use.

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If you have a smart meter to monitor your electricity usage, you could be opening yourself up to a security risk.

Hackers could get into your meter, monitor your power usage and determine when your home is vacant for extended periods of time, according to an April report (PDF) from cybercrime analyst Nigel Phair of the University of Canberra's Centre for Internet Safety.

"Most of the devices are being built without any inbuilt security around them -- and by that I mean password protection and no ability to update what we call the firmware as time goes on so they become safe devices," Phair, who formerly headed the Australian High Tech Crime Centre, told the ABC this week.

Water and gas meters are usually one-way, which means they only send data back to the provider. But most electricity meters have two-way radios, the report says, and this opens them up to hackers. In Puerto Rico, hackers have already exploited smart meters, reprogramming them for a fee to cut up to 75 percent of the user's electricity cost.

Phair also highlighted the risk to consumers. By cracking smart electricity meters, hackers can monitor real-time activity, such as when the television set is on, and even what program is being shown on the TV by monitoring the power required for each scene. This information could be sold to advertisers.

Electricity usage could also be used to highlight when the occupants of a home are absent.

"When a home has a number of internet-connected devices such as alarms or garage doors, the risk is heightened," Phair said.

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