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NH Electric Coop's logo for its smart meter program. I don't know if its meters are similar to those studied in this report.
Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Some 'smart meters' are stupid about privacy, researchers find

I'm a fan of "smart meters" for electric and water utilities, because they make it possible to develop more efficient systems. But that doesn't mean they are foolproof; s with any new technology, they can be done badly.

An article from Network World descrubes how researchers from the University of South Carolina were able to reverse engineer one meter's signals and use it to determine, among other things, if anybody is home. (Most meters only broadcast on response from a signal from the utilty, but at least one brand broadcasts regularly.) From the story:

The tools were simple: a $1,000 Universal Software Radio Peripheral software-defined radio, an amplifier, and the freeware GNU Radio software, plus of course, the team's knowledge of wireless protocols and data processing.

The first job was capturing the data. The team found that the meters transmit every 30 seconds by hopping through a number of frequencies, but the cycle of frequencies chosen isn't random so the pattern can be predicted.

Then, with just a few days work, Xu and her team were able to deconstruct the proprietary protocol used by the meters thanks to documentation they found on the Internet and information freely disclosed by meter makers.

(Read the whole thing here.)

New Hampshire Electric Cooperative is the leading utility, by a mile, for smart meters in this state. Here's their FAQ.