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Tech experts warn 'rogue programmers' could easily hack smart meters, cutting power to 52 million people living in the UK


Hackers

(NaturalNews) They are being touted as devices that make electricity use and distribution much more efficient, but to cybersecurity experts they are increasingly being viewed as just the latest threat that a hacker could exploit.

As reported by the UK's Express newspaper online, families throughout the country are going to be at risk of having their power turned off by a "rogue programmer" who could hack into new smart meters set to be installed on 52 million properties by 2020.

A technology expert has told the British parliamentary committee looking into the issue that computer code could easily be rewritten to "make every meter turn off on a particular date in a year's time.

Nick Hunn, of WiFore Consulting, said that it is possible to abuse "an isolation switch" that allows remote disabling of a home's or business' power supply.

Power failures on a wide scale

"We have not looked at what could happen if a rogue programmer were to join a meter company and write code that just turned them off," he said, the Express reported.

"I am not a great programmer yet I am fairly confident I could insert code that would make every meter turn off on a particular date in a year's time," he continued. "The equipment should be vetted by people who understand security."

The hacking expert also said the isolation switch just makes life simpler for the power companies, adding, "There is no benefit to the customer."

About two million of the meters are already in place.

Parliament's Commons Science and Technology Select Committee is looking into the issue of installing more smart meters.

As for hacking smart meters, it has already happened, and in Europe, no less. Sort of.

As reported by Information Week's Dark Reading web site in October 2014, European researchers revealed major security weaknesses in smart meters during Black Hat Europe, which was held in Amsterdam that year; Black Hat is an event where cybersecurity experts meet to discuss issues and emerging hacking threats.

Researchers Javier Vazquez Vidal and Alberto Garcia Illera "how they reverse engineered smart meters and found blatant security weaknesses that allowed them to commandeer the devices to shut down power or perform electricity usage fraud over the power line communications network," Dark Reading reported.

"The device is not properly secured," Vazquez Vidal said, without revealing which one it was. "Once you've got the [encryption] keys and know the hardware, you can have full control of the network in a really big area... to turn off and on the lights remotely, and you could know power consumption in a house [to determine] if someone is in the house" at that time.

More things to hack

The worst news is that there isn't anything power customers can do to prevent hacks because they are forced to accept the new meters.

"They cannot even choose not to have them at their homes. The only ones able to solve this situation are the electrical companies who are placing them," Vazquez Vidal said. "Since we do not own the meters that we have at home -- they are rented -- we cannot do anything about it... Besides, it could be considered [by the power company] as manipulation" of the devices.

As early as 2012, the FBI was warning that smart meters could be hacked. As noted by Brian Krebs, one-time security reporter for the Washington Post in an April 2012 blog post:

A series of hacks perpetrated against so-called "smart meter" installations over the past several years may have cost a single U.S. electric utility hundreds of millions of dollars annually, the FBI said in a cyber intelligence bulletin obtained by KrebsOnSecurity. The law enforcement agency said this is the first known report of criminals compromising the hi-tech meters, and that it expects this type of fraud to spread across the country as more utilities deploy smart grid technology.

Most people support energy efficiency – especially when it saves them money every month – but putting more things online for cyber villains to hack may not be the best idea.

Sources:

Express.co.uk

European researchers revealed major security weaknesses

KrebsOnSecurity.com

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