Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Smart Meters Becoming Headache For Power Companies

Crackers and cyber criminals are increasingly targeting power and energy companies for their nefarious activities. One of their favourite targets is the smart meter that can be manipulated to show wrong readings.

Cyber criminals are reprogramming smart meters so that they report less power consumption than actual one. To do so they are charging fees from the people who desire to get their smart meters tempered with to reflect low power bills.

The intended purpose of use of smart meters is to improve efficiency, reliability, and allow the electric utility to charge different rates for electricity at different times of day. Smart grid technology also holds the promise of improving a utility's ability to remotely read meters to determine electric usage.

Indian government has been planning to use smart meters that would allow remote analysis of power consumption and their billings. However, Indian government has not considered the cyber security aspects of these smart meters in India so far.

Cyber criminals can manipulate 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 laptop. Once this connection is made, cyber criminals can change the settings for recording power consumption using software that are freely available on the Internet.

The manipulation of smart meters occurs by exploiting the optical port of the meter. The purpose of optical port is to enable the technicians to diagnose problems in the field without removal, alteration, or disassembly of the meter. However, this feature also allows crackers and cyber criminals to exploit the port.

Malware like Stuxnet and Duqu have already proved that critical infrastructures like power grids, nuclear facilities, satellites, defense networks, governmental informatics infrastructures, etc are vulnerable to sophisticated cyber attacks. This is a grave issue which Indian government must take very seriously before rolling the smart meters in India.

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