Smart Meters: Are They Eavesdropping On Your Internet Usage?

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Are smart meters (or as some call them “smartmeters”) the next great energy saver, or are they a privacy risk for someone hacking your wifi, Internet, or electricity usage data? Maybe both. Some are calling them a great way to save energy and money on our monthly energy bills, some are saying they are a sign that big brother is tightening his grasp, but either way, smart meters are stirring up some serious controversy. From public meetings in Vermont, to gun-toting homeowners chasing utility company workers who are aiming to install smart meters off their property, these tiny little devices have not arrived quietly.

The problem, says opponents, is that this brings about the possibility for a host of privacy issues, such as Internet hacking. How, you may ask? Well, no one is exactly sure, and that may be why the arguments against the meters have been weak. In an interview with non-profit organization Stop Smart Meters, Senior Staff Attorney for the The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Lee Tien, was asked specifically, “What about hackers? How easy will it be for individuals to obtain your energy use data, or even turn off your electricity?”, to which he replied:

“Computer hackers say that it’s not hard to hack into a smart meter, but I’m not sure what they can do to it. They also say that the wireless transmissions can be intercepted. But the larger electrical grid may be the more pressing problem. I’m pretty sure there are real risks, but the public doesn’t usually get to know much about so-called critical infrastructure information ”

What some are saying can be done is that hackers can both gather your electric usage, and figure out when you are likely not home, as well as figure out how to shut off your power. Aside from scare tactics as to why people would want to cut off your power (this isn’t a campy horror flick), it appears the concern that seems most realistic is that hackers could potentially grab all of your energy usage data and sell that information to marketers. For instance, if you show most of your energy usage during the day, they may glean that you work graveyard shifts and barrage you with ads for coffee.

Ultimately, the information transmitted through the network from Smart Meters is encrypted and authenticated, and transmitted four times a day, in quick bursts lasting a few milliseconds. And while there is no one standard communication method, most Smart Meters seem to be not on the Internet, but using radio communication or their own independent networks. Plus, the information that would potentially obtained, if any, is that you used your toaster at 7:37am. And while we love to be the first to report the seedy underside of seemingly shiny, happy citizen serving initiatives, we are yet to uncover anything concrete or overly concerning.

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