FH Münster: Smart Meters Potential Surveillance Devices

Smart meters are potentially capable of becoming a surveillance device, the University of Applied Science of Münster’s Laboratory for IT Security warns.

Advanced metering devices are on the way to gradually replace regular electricity meters. The aim is to reduce energy consumption and costs by providing more detailed information on consumption.

In a project sponsored by the Federal Ministry for Education and Research, the IT Security Lab performed tests on data security with one sealed, operational smart meter used for electricity metering in one private home in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany.

Due to the fact that the the electricity consumption data was transmitted in very short, real time intervals, and was transmitted unsigned and unencrypted via the internet, researchers were able to identify the use of household appliances such as the refrigerator, coffee machine, toaster, washing machine, oven and TV set. Research also showed that the analysis of the household’s electricity usage profile may reveal what channel the TV was displaying. The researchers were even able to identify a movie shot for test purposes.

In view of the potential risk for consumer privacy, the researchers recommend longer data transmission intervals. Besides, they advise to make data noisy, encrypt it and require the recipient to delete it after a short period of time.

Currently, smart meters are only mandatory under certain conditions pursuant to Section 21c EnWG in Germany (e.g. in new buildings). Yet they are considered very helpful in reducing energy consumption and a way to help balance grids. Various pilot projects are currently being run by utilities. Hence the results of the tests by FH Münster will surely be read carefully.

Source: University of Applied Sciences of Münster, Laboratory for IT Security

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