Brian Krebs reports that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is becoming increasingly concerned about the prospect of widespread abuse of Smart Meters.
According the the FBI, vulnerabilities in the meters have resulted in financial losses for one utility that have reached hundreds of millions of dollars.
Krebs obtained an FBI intelligence bulletin (pictured below) that discusses the fraud perpetrated against a Puerto Rican utility, the first documented case of smart meter exploitation for financial gain (click image to enlarge).
"The FBI warns that insiders and individuals with only a moderate level of computer knowledge are likely able to compromise meters with low-cost tools and software readily available on the Internet," Krebs writes.
While smart grid technology is being deployed with the intention that great efficiency in power distribution will work to both conserve resources and provide rate payers with considerable savings, the prospect that the meters could easily be exploited by criminals is daunting.
According to Krebs, former employees of the smart meter manufacturer may have been paid to make alterations on the units.
"The FBI believes that miscreants hacked into the smart meters using an optical converter device — such as an infrared light — connected to a laptop that allows the smart meter to communicate with the computer. After making that connection, the thieves changed the settings for recording power consumption using software that can be downloaded from the Internet," Krebs wrote.
Other concerns center around the use of magnets to interfere with the unit's measurement of power consumption. According to the FBI report:
“This method is being used by some customers to disable the meter at night when air-conditioning units are operational. The magnets are removed during working hours when the customer is not home, and the meter might be inspected by a technician from the power company.”
“Each method causes the smart meter to report less than the actual amount of electricity used. The altered meter typically reduces a customer’s bill by 50 percent to 75 percent. Because the meter continues to report electricity usage, it appears be operating normally. Since the meter is read remotely, detection of the fraud is very difficult. A spot check of meters conducted by the utility found that approximately 10 percent of meters had been altered.”
Though the FBI did not specify which utility was experiencing the losses, Krebs speculates that it may be Puerto Rico's largest provider, the Puerto Rican Electric Power Authority (PREPA).
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