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Automated Meter Reading Systems Make Life Easy For Intruders

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Eavesdropping on smart meters

An aerial view of the neighborhood where the researchers performed their eavesdropping experiments. Each blue triangle or red star represents a group of four or ?ve meters mounted in a cluster on an exterior wall. Using an LNA and a 5 dBi omnidirectional

Credit: Ishtiaq Rouf et al.

Millions of analog meters that measure water, gas, and electricity consumption have been replaced by automated meter reading (AMR) systems.

New methods enable these devices to broadcast readings by radio every 30 seconds for utility companies to read as they pass by with a wireless receiver. However, University of South Carolina at Columbia researchers say intruders can tune into the same information. They warn that smart meters collect energy consumption data, which could reveal sensitive personal information from homes. For example, since energy usage often drops near zero when a house is empty, the data could be used to identify which homes are vacant at a given time.

The researchers studied AMR meters that make data publicly available over unsecured wireless transmissions. "They use a basic frequency hopping wireless communication protocol and show no evidence of attempting to ensure confidentiality, integrity, and authenticity of the data," the researchers say. They suggest alternative schemes based on defensive jamming, which could be easier to deploy than upgrading the meters themselves.

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Abstracts Copyright © 2012 Information Inc., Bethesda, Maryland, USA 


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