Smart metre raises security and privacy concerns in NSW

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Dual electricity meters are seen outside of computer science professor Christa Lopes' home in Irvine, California January 26, 2015.
Dual electricity meters are seen outside of computer science professor Christa Lopes' home in Irvine, California January 26, 2015. Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

A new technology is rolled out in New South Wales and it is raising security concerns.  Experts are afraid that electricity smart metre may put homeowners' privacy and security at risk.

The smart metre is helpful in some ways, like in remembering the last time you got an item from your refrigerator, the age and brand of your appliance and how they are being utilized at home. The digital device primarily records a household’s water, electricity and gas usage and transmits the data to the utility operator in real-time.

While there are some advantages, a University of Canberra cybercrime expert has warned that an “insecure and accessible smart metre” is also a chance for crooks to know when homeowners are away for extended periods of time. An electricity smart meter is currently being formatted for a one-way or two-way transmission of data. The latter, which is more commonly being used in the Australian market, raises some security concerns as transmitted information is usually unencrypted.

Director of the Centre for Internet Safety at the University of Canberra Nigel Phair recognised that it is great to be connected online. However, the new process may not be being executed in a consumer-informed way.

Phair said households must have one-way transmit metres until security is sort out. He suggested that providers may use push notifications in two-way metres for advertising purposes or when power has to be turned off, particularly when a bill has not been paid.

He also cited a case in 2009, in which a criminal operation in Puerto Rico reached to the public with an offer to reprogram their smart metres to falsely reduce their usage and lower their monthly electricity bills. An investigation by the FBI later learned that Puerto Rican electrical and power authority lost almost $400 million dollars in annual revenue. Phair said the incident shows how easily the new technology could be compromised.

Origin has responded to security concerns, saying all devices and related systems featured "security measures" to ensure data is protected. "Origin's digital meters comply with relevant privacy legislation and electricity market rule,” the company’s spokesperson said according to Sydney Morning Herald.

AGL also defended its smart metres, with a spokesperson saying they are “confidential and encrypted.” It also assured that its devices did not contain names or addresses, and that the company has not experienced customer data breaches. Smart metres have been rolled out on a voluntary basis in NSW.

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