Are SmartMeters easy targets for hackers?

SmartMeters hold all kinds of personal information and critics say a breach could do much more than leave customers in the dark.

SmartMeters are moving into neighborhoods across the country. They help power companies measure electricity usage in real time, but according to a study released on Friday by In Guardians, an East Coast security group, the immediate information can also be read and stolen by hackers.

"It's pretty clear that the SmartMeter technology is not ready for prime time," says Mindy Spatt from TURN, or The Utility Reform Network.

San Francisco-based TURN is not surprised by the study's findings, which also says hackers could remotely turn someone's power off, tap into a customers' bill, and even gather personal information.

"When you wake up, when you use your hot tub, when you use your shower," says Spatt. "Think about who might be interested in this information: identity thieves, plain ordinary house thieves, divorce lawyers."

"I think the likelihood of somebody actually getting into a meter if they really want to, is very small," says Frances Cleveland from Xanthus Consulting.

Frances Cleveland is a security and reliability consultant for utility companies. She says safe guards are already in place to keep most hackers out. Cleveland disagrees with the report that also suggests hackers could cause a massive blackout.

"I don't think there's any real danger that somehow one hacker can take one meter and somehow turn off all of the electricity all across the nation," says Cleveland.

PG&E was not a part of the study.

A spokesman would say only, "We do have a continuous process in place to identify IT security threats in real time to protect the SmartMeter network."

The National Institute of Standards and Technology is assessing the SmartMeter risks and vulnerabilities, while utilities continue to install nationwide.

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