Putting Power in the Air
As much as I rely on technology for so much of what I do, and as enamored as I am of high-tech tools and gadgets, I hew to a common sense rule of thumb that the minor inconvenience of wires and direct switches and locks is counterbalanced by privacy and security concerns. With regard to “smart grid” energy technology, here’s one reason:
In the US alone, more than 8 million smart meters, designed to help deliver electricity more efficiently and to measure power consumption in real time, have been deployed by electric utilities and nearly 60 million should be in place by 2020. Now the Associated Press reports that smart meters have security flaws that could let hackers tamper with the power grid, opening the door for attackers to jack up strangers’ power bills, remotely turn someone else’s power on and off, or even allow attackers to get into the utilities’ computer networks to steal data or stage bigger attacks on the grid. Attacks could be pulled off by stealing meters — which can be situated outside of a home — and reprogramming them, or an attacker could sit near a home or business and wirelessly hack the meter from a laptop, according to Joshua Wright, a senior security analyst with InGuardians Inc, a vendor-independent consultant that performs penetration tests and security risk assessments.
Combine that concern with the trend toward the wireless meters relentlessly being placed in houses. We’ve all seen movies in which some spy or stalker must break open an outdoor telephone panel in order to tap the family’s phone line or break into the house to cut the power line. The protagonist usually manages to figure out what’s going on pretty rapidly by tracing wires. In the case of wireless technology, highly trained technicians would be sorting through the mazes of ones and zeroes in computer code trying to trace problems in the middle of the night.
Moreover, as the above link goes on to indirectly suggest, it’s simply not possible to prevent people from stealing information that’s traveling through the air, making encryption the only safeguard. As energy companies use their equipment to collect more data from our households’ lights and appliances, the loss of privacy and control could be immense.