Security fears over new technology being rolled out across NSW

Saturday, 13. April 2019

SMH News story by, Lucy Cormack. The end of the Government solar feed back tarrif. Photo shows, Solar user, Michael Kwan at his Killarney Heights home. He has decided on installing a smart meter, which will allow him to switch to a metering system on 31 December. It then allows him to use his solar energy to meet his household needs. Afterwards any excess electricity generated, and not used, is exported to the grid. Photo: Peter Rae Thursday 19 May 2016. Photo: Peter RaeYou probably don’t remember the exact time you last opened your refrigerator.
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But an electricity smart meter will.

It will also remember the age and brand of your appliance and how it is being used in the home – and all conveniently in real-time.

But a University of Canberra cybercrime expert has questioned the cost of such convenience in a new report, arguing that current smart meter technology could place consumers’ privacy and security at risk.

“It is great to be connected and online, and we need to embrace what’s coming at us down the pipes,” said Nigel Phair, director of the Centre for Internet Safety at the University of Canberra.

“But we are not doing it in a measured or consumer-informed way. An insecure and accessible smart meter is a great way to tell when homeowners are away for extended periods of time.”

Smart meters are digital devices that electronically record water, electricity and gas usage and transmit the data to the utility operator in real-time.

Currently a smart meter is formatted to allow either a one-way or two-way transmission of data, with the latter the most commonly used in the Australian market.

One-way meters record the amount of water, electricity or gas at a pre-set interval, which is then transmitted to the provider, while in a two-way device, usage is not only sent to the energy provider but the provider can also push data and messages back to the meter.

To date smart meters have been rolled out on a voluntary basis in NSW, after a mandatory mass roll-out in Victoria was widely criticised.

But from July this year, any new meters installed in NSW homes must be a smart meter.

As well as being more costly, Mr Phair said a two-way device raises a number of security issues, as information transmitted is often unencrypted.

“I think smart metering is the future. But as we stand today we should only have one-way transmit meters until we sort out security,” he said, adding that providers could use push notifications in two-way meters to send advertising or turn off power to a home, if a bill has not been paid.

An Origin spokesperson would not confirm if information on its smart meters was encrypted, but said all devices and related systems featured “security measures” to protect all data.

“Origin’s digital meters comply with relevant privacy legislation and electricity market rules.”

In 2009 a criminal operation in Puerto Rico contacted the general public with an offer to covertly reprogram their smart meters for a fee, to falsely reduce their apparent usage, saving them up to 75 per cent off their monthly electricity bills.

An FBI investigation later found the Puerto Rican electrical and power authority lost nearly $400 million dollars in annual revenue.

Mr Phair said the case showed just how easily such technology could be compromised, and said it points to the need for public policy and “certainty in the marketplace about the security of devices”.

Energy Australia installed its first smart meters in Victorian customer homes in 2009. In the period since, an Energy Australia spokesman said there had not be “no known security breaches.”

“As well as adhering to national regulatory rules, we ensure our meter service providers routinely monitor their smart meter security systems so they are safe, secure and customers are protected.”

He said Energy Australia smart meters were not integrated with home technologies like wireless networks or telephones, adding that any smart meter data would continue to be shared “via independent and secure networks which do not overlap with the customer’s own wireless networks.”

An AGL spokesperson said its digital meter data was “confidential and encrypted,” and did not contain names or addresses.

“Data can be transmitted in two ways between the meter and the meter provider, which is important to enable meter software/firmware to be updated. We have not experienced customer data breaches ,” he said.

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