The Smart Meter "Off Switch"

While the transition to Smart Grid technology brings with it the promises of energy conservation, and hopes to empower consumers with a higher awareness of their power consumption, many are concerned that with these benefits will also come key vulnerabilities to the electrical grid -- and for that matter, the safety of entire nations. In Britain, for example, researchers at Cambridge University have brought to light a vulnerability associated with plans to introduce "pre-paid" energy consumption for consumers with a history of defaulting on payment. The practice would require a standard remote shut-off scheme which, depending on encryption methods, might make it relatively easy for a malicious third party to disable meters remotely.

Electricity and gas supplies might be disrupted on a massive scale by failures of smart meters, whether as a result of cyber-attack or simply from software errors. The introduction of hundreds of millions of these meters in North America and Europe over the next ten years, each containing a remotely commanded off switch, remote software upgrade and complex functionality, could create a critical vulnerability.

In their report (view PDF here), two Cambridge researchers delve deeply into issues of smart meter security in light of the remote "off switch." A number of hypothetical possibilities are introduced as to what smart grid terrorism might look like, who might be responsible, and what measures might be taken now to prevent it.