Smart Meters: Are They Spying On You?

Smart meters could potentially be used as spying or “monitoring” devices, according to a new report by a technology publication. Smart Grid News, a “mouthpiece” for the high-tech meter industry, stated that off-label uses of smart meters abound in the near future. The devices utilize wireless radios to communicate data about electrical usage, which makes them easy targets for cyber hackers, according to many technology experts. As former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said, a cyber attack on the power grid is a matter of when, not if. Some feel that a nationwide smart grid and smart meters increase the likelihood of such an attack occurring on a devastating scale.

Along with an increased push for smart meter installation nationwide comes backlash over the intrusive nature of the electricity gauging devices. Smart grid and smart meters opponents vocally opposed the gathering of personal usage information via mandatory connection or installation to a high-tech electrical system. The antiquated nature of the power grid is a major concern for many security experts and Americans in general.

Excerpt from smart meters report on Smart Grid News:

“Soon, the idea of using smart meters to simply tell us how much electricity is being used at any given time will seem similarly archaic. One of the next areas of value comes from taking smart meter data and ‘disaggregating’ it to tell us exactly how customers are using electricity. Do external devices already do this? Sure. Just as progress in the smart phone world reduced the need for external devices, cameras, alarm clocks, radios, pedometers, navigation systems, etc, the ability to get accurate, appliance level feedback, without the need to invest in external hardware, is the next step in the world of smart meters. Studies indicate that the more specific the information, the better the conservation impact. “

Although the conservation information presented to customers is billed at merely a guide to help residents use less energy, the reduction of energy might not remain voluntary forever. Thousands of utility workers could reportedly be laid-off because smart meters eliminate the bulk of the need for meter readers.

According to the Stop Smart Meters group, the smart grid devices do not always emit less RF (radio frequency) exposure than a cell phone — as some utility companies allegedly state. “People are becoming increasingly aware of the potential harm done by chronic exposure to RF radiation-emitting devices and are taking steps to change how they use them. Most people are not offered a wired smart meter and you can’t turn it off once it is installed,” the group contends.

Former CIA Director David Petraeus once stated that WiFi connected devices, such as appliances commonly found inside many homes, will “transform the art of spying.” Petraeus also said that spies will be capable of monitoring Americans without going inside the home or perhaps even acquiring a warrant. He went on to state that remote control radio frequency identification devices, “energy harvesters,” sensor networks, and small embedded severs all connected to an internet network will be all that is necessary for clandestine intelligence gathering.

Another excerpt from the Smart Grid News report read:

“In a recent pilot, Greater Sudbury Hydro worked with Ecotagious Inc. to test the impact of delivering actionable information and recommendations. They disaggregated their smart meter data and combined it with behavioral science to deliver load specific feedback reports and recommendations to their highest potential customers. The result was impressive at over 4 percent conservation after just a few months. This could be just the beginning. In addition to conserving energy and saving money, customers were delighted with the initiative as it showed how their new smart meters could work for them. Utility companies wanting to meet their specific conservation targets to drive customer engagement should ensure they are making the most of their smart meter investment. They can now use the power of smart meter data disaggregation to identify the customers who are most likely to help them reach their specific targets and turn them into willing partners in the drive for energy conservation.”

How do you feel about smart meters and power grid vulnerabilities?

[Image Via: Wikimedia Commons/US Navy]

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