Are “smart” electric meters smart enough?

“Smart” electric meters benefit power companies by eliminating meter readers, their jobs and onsite visits to cut off or restore service.

How they truly benefit consumers is unclear.

What is clear is that smart meters will open the electric distribution grid and our homes and workplaces to new and unprecedented security and privacy risks.

Communicating with power companies via two-way wireless (radio) connections to nearby utility poles, smart meters will be the most extensive computer network in Vermont and a leading attraction for malicious hackers, who can work on hacking and disrupting it with a laptop computer in a vehicle parked anywhere.

Rapidly introducing smart meters everywhere in Vermont invites universal disruption when they are hacked, especially with a software worm, which will spread faster and faster (exponentially) from a meter to many meters, perhaps cutting off service.

The fundamental question then will be: How quickly can these meters be upgraded to fix a vulnerability that hackers found and exploited (as they will)?

Some key technical questions:

  • Are the wireless meter-pole connections encrypted?
  • How strong is the encryption?
  • Is there a hardware firewall?
  • Can the security software be fixed and updated quickly from a central location soon after hackers break in?

Anyone who says that hackers can’t or won’t break into the smart-meter network is wrong.

We shouldn’t believe everything that we find on the Internet, but Technology Review, published by Massachusetts of Technology (MIT), is a gold standard:

The big smart grid challenges

Meters for the smart grid

Smart meters not ready for prime time

Hacking the smart grid

Hacking the smart grid

Can software patch the ailing power grid?

Researchers hack mobile data communications

The challenges of big data on the smart grid

Howard Fairman
Vermont Uncommon Taters
Vernon, Vermont