Smart meters and personal data: Is your light switch a security risk?

By Kelly Emmerton ·

Smart meters may be the next step in Australia’s retail energy future, but some security experts think they could be a misstep, reported smh.com.au.

Smart meters are digital devices that electronically record a household’s electricity or gas consumption and transmit the data to the energy provider. They can also record the age of an appliance and how it is being used in real time.

After a mandatory roll-out of smart meters across Victoria drew a lot of criticism, installation in NSW has so far been on a voluntary basis, although from July this year, any new meters installed in NSW must be smart technology.

But cybercrime experts have recently argued that smart meter technology could be putting Aussies’ safety and privacy at risk.

Director of the Centre for Internet Safety at the University of Canberra, Nigel Phair said that while smart meters are technology Australians should embrace, “...we are not doing it in a measured or consumer-informed way. An insecure and accessible smart meter is a great way to tell when homeowners are away for extended periods of time."

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In Australia, smart meters most commonly allow two-way transmissions of data. This means energy providers can collect information from the meter and are also able to send data and messages back the other way.

It was this two-way communication that Phair said presented a security issue for households using the technology. Among his concerns was the fact that transmitted information is often unencrypted, and that providers could potentially use two-way smart meters to switch off power in homes when bills hadn’t been paid.

"I think smart metering is the future. But as we stand today we should only have one-way transmit meters until we sort out security," he said.

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An AGL spokesperson said that two-way data transmissions were important to allow energy providers to update smart meter software. He also said the company had experienced no customer data breaches, and all the transmitted data was encrypted.

Energy Australia has been installing smart meters in Victorian households since 2009, and according to a spokesperson had also had “no known security breaches” in that time.

"As well as adhering to national regulatory rules, we ensure our meter service providers routinely monitor their smart meter security systems so they are safe, secure and customers are protected,” he said.

According to the spokesperson, Energy Australia smart meters shared data "via independent and secure networks which do not overlap with the customer's own wireless networks" and were not integrated with customers’ home wi-fi or phone lines.

Smart meter or not, if you’re looking for a better deal on your electricity, make sure you check out our energy comparison tool to find the best offers in your area.

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