back to article Hackers could turn your smart meter into a bomb and blow your family to smithereens – new claim

Smart meters are "dangerously insecure," according to researcher Netanel Rubin – who claimed the gear uses weak encryption, relies on easily pwned protocols, and can be programmed to explode. The software vulnerability hunter derided global efforts to roll out the meters as reckless, saying the "dangerous" devices are a risk …

  1. MooseMonkey

    FFS

    Please decide how to spell meter / metre and stick with it throughout, one is a measuring device the other is a unit of measure. They are not interchangeable...

    1. Bloodbeastterror

      Re: FFS

      "Please decide how to spell meter / metre"

      It's particularly bad that it's wrong in the headline (and still is at the moment of writing). Do subeditors scan only the body and ignore the headline despite it being in massive font?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: FFS

        It's particularly bad that it's wrong in the headline (and still is at the moment of writing). Do subeditors scan only the body and ignore the headline despite it being in massive font?

        Be glad I'm not the subeditor. I'd do this deliberately and sprinkle some other mistakes in the article, just to wind up the grammar Nazis.

    2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

      Re: FFS

      Smart metres could be something cool, though... maybe as a new El Reg unit? Any suggestions?

      (Or, failing that, how about a smart mitre?)

    3. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: FFS

      It was spotted during the edit - but our search'n'replace game was weak. It's been fixed, lessons learned.

      C.

      1. Graham Cobb

        Re: FFS

        No it hasn't. There is still at least one "metre" left. Although the sentence containing it looks as though it could have been added as an afterthought.

  2. This post has been deleted by its author

  3. Voland's right hand Silver badge

    Explode is not interesting

    The guy needs to know what is really dangerous.

    Explode is meah.

    Turning it on/off in a large enough area all at the same time is a different story. Depending on level of grid optimization you are looking at between 5 and 15% capacity being flipped on/off at the same time for the grid to start falling apart. >15% is a pretty much guaranteed collapse.

    It is getting more difficult to do that nowdays as a lot of the load does not come immediately up after you flip the switch - incandescent, old high power tvs with hard switches, etc are no longer around. Still doable though (and may become more doable as people switch from gas to heat-pump and HVAC).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Explode is not interesting

      Back in the day I lived in a desert environment entirely powered by Caterpiller generators.

      All the accomodation blocks had through the wall aircon units (those hideous Westinhouse things) into each room.

      One day one of the Gennies packed up because of a diesel fault and had to be repaired.

      Once repaired, they had great difficulty restarting it as all those a/c units were still switched on and the startup load kept bringing it to its knees.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Explode is not interesting

        I had visions of lots of little caterpillars in exercise wheels connected to generators for a moment there.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: the startup load kept bringing it to its knees

        "all those a/c units were still switched on and the startup load kept bringing it to its knees."

        1) That's what a no-volt disconnect is for. Various other names may apply. When the power fails, a relay drops out, disconnecting the load from power. When power is restored, manual intervention is required (e.g. a button must be pushed) to re-apply power to the load. Dead simple, dirt cheap, cost effective. You've just described why they're important sometimes.

        2) Some datacentre dinosaurs may remember disk drives with significant power consumption (washing machine size, maybe, maybe 500W or maybe even 3KW per drive). The no-volt disconnect may not have been appropriate here, hence some of the designs came with a power sequencing connector (an "in" and an "out") to provide an automated equivalent.

        You daisy chain the power sequencing connectors+cables and the drive electronics ensures that only one drive on the chain will ever demand startup current, all the rest are either disconnected or in steady running (relatively low power) state.

    2. Tom Paine Silver badge

      Re: Explode is not interesting

      By "grid" you mean "tiny tiny section of the grid hanging off your local pole-mounted transformer", presumably, not "the national electrical supply grid". I'm no electrical engineer but I remember reading at the time of the great NE US outage in 2004 that the UK grid (and other developed countries' grids) are segmented to prevent cascading failures knocking down large chunks of the network simultaneously.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Explode is not interesting

        "the UK grid (and other developed countries' grids) are segmented to prevent cascading failures knocking down large chunks of the network simultaneously."

        Depends on the circumstances and on the particular failure(s).

        You might like to read about what happened in 2008 when Sizewell and Longannet both had unplanned significant outages within a few minutes of each other. I posted a link to (and an extract from) a BBC news article earlier in this thread.

      2. SImon Hobson Silver badge

        Re: Explode is not interesting

        By "grid" you mean "tiny tiny section of the grid hanging off your local pole-mounted transformer"

        No, I think he does mean the NATIONAL grid - and yes it's quite feasible to cause some serious disruption to it.

        ... the UK grid (and other developed countries' grids) are segmented to prevent cascading failures knocking down large chunks of the network simultaneously.

        Actually, the UK grid is a single network - the North American grid is segmented by a few DC links, partly for stability reasons (it's a lot harder controlling a single grid of that size than one the size of the UK), and partly because for some long distance lines it's more efficient (less losses) to use DC.

        We did have a national outage in the UK back in the 40s IIRC (or could have been later than that, can't find any references online). I recall my late father telling me about it, and how they found that there was a flaw in just about every power station design - an assumption that they would always have grid power during startup !

        Each power station was designed on the assumption of there being grid power available for running all the machinery etc needed to run the power station. When the whole grid went dark, they found a catch 22 situation of not having the power to start up the power stations to generate power. I assume there was some carefully managed switching done to get some bits of the grid live and so allow the main stations to be started up. After that, they had a program of retrofitting gas turbine generators at most power stations to give them a black start capability - and they also came in useful for fast reacting peak lopping (ie coping with the peak when people go and switch the kettles on during the ad breaks on telly.) But I digress ...

        As an AC has mentioned, we've had relatively recent experience with loss of significant generating capacity - have a read of this report.

        The flip side is, what happens if someone can hack the control system and cause a massive disconnection of loads - perhaps at a peak time like the 6-7pm teatime slot on a cold winters evening, or thinking a bit more, it might be more effective if you can do it when they are already at a point of having to dial back the big plant at times of low demand. There's scope for some modelling there methinks ...

        Answer, if you can drop a few GW off the grid, both voltage and frequency are going to go up VERY fast. That's probably going to cause some generating capacity to trip automatically* - that alone is going to cause some chaos. Then, when some of the big generators have tripped - turn all the loads back on. You've not got something similar to the 2008 incident above - but with some generating capacity tripped out and probably taking some time to get back into operational state. Rince and repeat a few times, I think you'll find it has "quite an impact" on the National Grid - and yes, I do think there is potential for significant blackouts (though probably not a complete national one.

        * Hint - what do you think happens in a nuclear power station if it's running at full load, and it's generators trip out on over-voltage/frequency ? Well that's one hell of a kettle, and there's going to be an emergency shutdown on the nuclear side - there's no safety risk as there should still be power for all the safety and cooling systems to continue working as normal while it cools down. I strongly suspect that if the grid calls up 10 minutes later and asks for full output, they won't get an "OK, be on in the next few seconds" answer. They can probably get a significant output going quite quickly - but it takes time to ramp up the thermal output of the reactor so full power will take a while.

        Similarly, in a coal plant, they'll shut down the coal feed immediately - putting the fires out. I don't know if they have any minimum time before they can attempt a relight - anyone have any inside knowledge on that ?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          All roads lead to Dinorwig - well worth a visit

          Fast (very fast if required) response frequency control? Dinorwig.

          Short term operating reserve (a few hours at a GW and a bit)? Dinorwig.

          Grid-scale black start? Dinorwig.

          "the North American grid is segmented "

          In addition to the two valid reasons you mention, there's another one in North America not applicable in geographically smaller grids - the inevitability of another "Carrington event" one day, where larger than usual solar activity causes circulating low frequency (DC?) currents to be induced into large loops (perhaps unintended ones) in the grid. The larger the area of the loop, the larger the circulating current, and the greater the risk of severe effects as protection breakers trip etc. Segmenting the grid (via AC/HVDC/AC interconnects) is one tactic to reduce the risk and the impact.

          Here's a non-technical starting point:

          https://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/sun_darkness.html

          "[...]

          On the evening of Monday, March 12 1989, the vast cloud of solar plasma (a gas of electrically charged particles) finally struck Earth's magnetic field. The violence of this 'geomagnetic storm' caused spectacular 'northern lights' that could be seen as far south as Florida and Cuba. The magnetic disturbance was incredibly intense. It actually created electrical currents in the ground beneath much of North America. Just after 2:44 a.m. on March 13, the currents found a weakness in the electrical power grid of Quebec. In less than 2 minutes, the entire Quebec power grid lost power. During the 12-hour blackout that followed, millions of people suddenly found themselves in dark office buildings and underground pedestrian tunnels, and in stalled elevators. Most people woke up to cold homes for breakfast. The blackout also closed schools and businesses, kept the Montreal Metro shut during the morning rush hour, and closed Dorval Airport.

          The Quebec Blackout was by no means a local event. Some of the U.S. electrical utilities had their own cliffhanger problems to deal with. New York Power lost 150 megawatts the moment the Quebec power grid went down. The New England Power Pool lost 1,410 megawatts at about the same time. Service to 96 electrical utilities in New England was interrupted while other reserves of electrical power were brought online. Luckily, the U.S. had the power to spare at the time…but just barely. Across the United States from coast to coast, over 200 power grid problems erupted within minutes of the start of the March 13 storm. Fortunately none of these caused a blackout.

          [...]"

          1. Roland6 Silver badge

            Re: All roads lead to Dinorwig - well worth a visit

            I think in the context here - namely a sudden oversupply, the purpose of Dinorwig is slightly different to it's conventional usage, namely in replenishing it's top reservoir it is a massive energy sink. The only downside I can see is that I doubt Dinorwig can sink a power oversupply at the same rate as it can generate power...

            1. ButlerInstitute

              Hope it goes well for them ....

              My understanding is that in normal circumstances Dinorweg sinks 1.0 power stations worth of power by pumping continuously. If one power station is lost from the grid Dinorweg stops pumping, leaving the total generation capacity of the Grid the same. If a second station is lost Dinorweg starts generating while they get around to running up another.

              Of course if more than two were lost simultaneously ....

        2. heyrick Silver badge

          Re: Explode is not interesting

          "We did have a national outage in the UK back in the 40s IIRC (or could have been later than that, can't find any references online)."

          Circa 2010(ish), something (a bridge?) in Germany caused a cascade effect that took out a huge chunk of Western Europe. We went out (Brittany) for several hours.

          So, yeah, I think screwing with the grid in calculated ways could have a tremendous effect. Remember - if they're into the meter with that degree of control, it's probably trivial to read out how much load is actually present (so can turn on and off the greatest loads for the greatest impact). Remember also, night time is when cheaper rate appliances kick in and people are going to be less likely to notice a washing machine being repeatly power cycled until it (or the meter) fails in unpleasant ways.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Explode is not interesting

            "So, yeah, I think screwing with the grid in calculated ways could have a tremendous effect..."

            Is there any particular reason screwing with (already networked) substations wouldn't achieve the same effect? If you've so comprehensively compromised a nation's utility networks surely it's going to be just as achievable.

            1. Orv Silver badge

              Re: Explode is not interesting

              "Is there any particular reason screwing with (already networked) substations wouldn't achieve the same effect?"

              For that matter, it might be easier, more certain, and cause more lasting damage to dynamite a few power pylons. There are lots of potential targets that are in rural areas where activity would be unlikely to be noticed. The Northeast US blackout in 2003 was initiated by a few high voltage lines sagging into untrimmed trees on a hot day, so this is clearly a point of vulnerability. Or shoot holes in the oil tanks of a few big substation transformers. There's lots of room for far less exotic disruption on a system that widely distributed.

        3. Orv Silver badge

          Re: Explode is not interesting

          I think most fuel-fired boilers, including coal, require a lengthy purge with forced air before they can be relit. The danger here is if the shutdown wasn't totally "clean" there may be an explosive fuel/air mixture hanging around in the firebox. I gather the risk of firebox explosion if ignition isn't even and immediate makes lighting large coal boilers kind of hair raising, not something you want to attempt every day.

          On the whole I think the rapid connection/disconnection scheme might successfully produce an outage, although maybe only on part of the grid, depending on how alert operators were. (It's said the Northeast US Blackout of 2003 could have been stopped if grid operators had cut off part of Cleveland in the first hour or so of the failure cascade: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northeast_blackout_of_2003)

          1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

            Re: Explode is not interesting

            Is there any particular reason screwing with (already networked) substations wouldn't achieve the same effect?

            Better in fact, you can switch more load at once.

            But, which are you most likely to compromise ?

            On the one hand, a network with a small number of nodes, under active monitoring, where if you do manage to compromise the network, it is relatively easy for the operator to upgrade.

            On the other hand, a network with around 50 million nodes (if the idiots get their way), where obtaining a sample meter is trivially easy without raising any suspicion, and which is connected via a public network.

            I gather the risk of firebox explosion if ignition isn't even and immediate makes lighting large coal boilers kind of hair raising ...

            Ha ha, that reminds me of an amusing tale. Many years ago when I was an apprentice in a local outfit, we still had a small coal fired power station just up the road. It was common for each years group of instrument tech apprentices to be taken there to get a look at instrumentation and control on real plant. Now, the fireboxes of said plants have big flaps which will flap open (and let the pressue out safely) should such an ignition problem happen, and the apprentices were walking across a gantry not far from them when they were doing a light up ... at which point I suspect most of you are ahead of me already.

            I think it's not hard to imagine just how much black dust there is in and around a coal fired plant, especially when you are grinding it up and blowing it into a fluidised bed. Apparently that group of apprentices arrived back at the training centre wearing nothing but CEGB boiler suits having been sent to the showers to clean up.

  4. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Trollface

    "Smart meters are 'dangerously insecure'"

    Well gosh, who could have guessed that ? I'm certain that ab-so-lutely nobody had the slightest inkling of a notion that these newfangled government-imposed thingamabobs hadn't been entirely reviewed with the utmost stringent security measures in mind.

    After all, it's a government project, not a third-party, private company, snouts-in-the-trough revenue exercise. Government is responsible. Government knows about vulnerabilities. Government has years of experience with all its IT projects.

    Oh, wait . . .

    (Yeah, I know it's EU-mandated. It's still the UK Government imposing it, and you can bet that Brexit won't stop that project)

    1. druck

      Re: "Smart meters are 'dangerously insecure'"

      The physical security of the meter is strong,
      No it isn't, it sits in a box on the outside of my house which can be opened by anyone with a key from a poundshop.

      1. Tom Paine Silver badge

        Re: "Smart meters are 'dangerously insecure'"

        If your electricity meter is outside your house, your electrictiy co is doing it very very wrong.

        1. John Robson Silver badge

          Re: "Smart meters are 'dangerously insecure'"

          All new meters are outside, so they can be read more easily....

          And smart meters need to be read how often? Oh well. Idiots...

        2. Ogi

          Re: "Smart meters are 'dangerously insecure'"

          > If your electricity meter is outside your house, your electrictiy co is doing it very very wrong.

          I don't know where you live, but every single property I have lived/rented/been in, had the electricity meter outside the property.

          The only place where I didn't see this was an old victorian house. There the wiring entered in the cellar, and the electricity meter was in there, with wiring going off everywhere else.

          I think most post victorian built buildings have the meter outside, so the electricity man can check/repair/alter the meter without needing entry into the house.

          Bonus: You don't have to be in for the electricity engineer to come work on the meter or read off the values.

          Downside: You can't stop them working on the meter by denying them entry to your home. In theory if the government decide in future, they can replace your meter with a smart one with nothing more than a notification. If it is in the house, they would need your permission to enter to do the install, and you could refuse.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: permission to enter to do the install

            "If [the meter] is in the house, they would need your permission to enter to do the install, and you could refuse."

            Are you sure? Got a reference?

            The former UK monopoly utilities used to have a statutory right of entry for times when they needed to get access to their assets (eg the meter) without the occupant's/owner's permission. Sometimes they'd need a warrant, which would usually be readily available under the Rights of Entry (Gas and Electricity Boards) Act 1954 (as amended) (“the 1954 Act”).

            Their private monopoly (distribution co.) and private cartel (retail co.) successors may well have inherited those statutory rights - I'd be surprised if they didn't, but sometimes I'm surprised.

            1. Pat Att

              Re: permission to enter to do the install

              If they've got that power, then the general meter reading guys don't seem to use it. I turned down entry to them many times in my old house, because they'd knock on the door, and ask to read it. I said I'd let them if they could tell me who I was. Every time they gave the name of the previous occupant, who left several years before. They always seemed happy enough though after being politely told to go away.

              1. YetAnotherLocksmith

                Re: permission to enter to do the install

                Well...

                The meter readers will happily not give a damn, because they're just subbed-out guys so have to check 300 houses a day or more.

                The PDV, or PreDisconnection Visit, as we call them (one company has now renamed to something "less aggressive" but hey, it is what it is) will also happily leave if you are an arse, but generally get it resolved face to face.

                The Warrants team however, are coming in, locked door, dog, whatever. Maybe not the first time, maybe with police, maybe with, in a couple of cases over many thousands I've done, a disc cutter and sledgehammer, TASER team and 10+ police.

                So your mileage may vary.

              2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

                Re: "I said I'd let them if they could tell me who I was"

                You are meter # AF0004684133886443GSRD and you are using electricity, therefor you must pay it.

                The fact that the previous owner of the house is not the same is of absolutely no interest to the electricity company.

            2. Unicornpiss Silver badge

              Re: permission to enter to do the install

              In the US, you could refuse the utility company entry to your home. However, it would be well within their right then to also refuse to provide you with electricity if no access was given to the premises.

          2. heyrick Silver badge

            Re: "Smart meters are 'dangerously insecure'"

            "Bonus: You don't have to be in for the electricity engineer to come work on the meter or read off the values."

            I don't know about the UK, but here in France they are rolling out a smart meter called Linky. It goes inside the house in place of the spinning-disc meter. The thing it, it communicates directly with ErDF. I'm not sure if it is by some sort of transmission piggybacked on the old pager network, or if it blasts data into the electric wiring like CPL on acid. Either way, IT talks to the provider. Nobody has to come and read anything.

          3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: "Smart meters are 'dangerously insecure'"

            "The only place where I didn't see this was an old victorian house. There the wiring entered in the cellar, and the electricity meter was in there, with wiring going off everywhere else."

            It doesn't need to be quite that old for the meter to be in a cupboard under the stairs. My parents moved into a "modern" estate in the very early 60's and that's where the leccy meter was. IIRC the houses were about 5 years old when we moved in. I don't remember much of moving day, what with being 6 months old at the time!

          4. AndrueC Silver badge
            Meh

            Re: "Smart meters are 'dangerously insecure'"

            I think most post victorian built buildings have the meter outside, so the electricity man can check/repair/alter the meter without needing entry into the house.

            Not my experience. Every house I've owned or lived in was built during the 60s or later. They've all had internal electricity meters (usually under the stairs). My current 1985 property has the meter(*) in the garage, two metres up the wall. Perfectly positioned to give you a crick in the neck while you try and decipher the quaint dials. In the sixteen years I've lived there I think it's only been 'officially' read twice and one of those was a specially arranged Saturday reading so I'm getting quite good at reading it myself. Apart from the neck ache :(

            But all the properties I've lived in have had a gas meter outside along with the shut-off valve.

            (*)and a fuse wire distribution panel. If someone wants to upgrade something then upgrading that to RCD would be more useful than a smart meter.

            1. Orv Silver badge

              Re: "Smart meters are 'dangerously insecure'"

              Interesting differences between countries here.

              I live in the US and I've never seen an electric meter inside the house. They're always outside, underneath where the utility drop is anchored to the roof. My current house has the circuit breaker panel out there, too.

              Gas meters are also always outside, along with their attendant pressure regulator. Water meters can be inside, outside, or down in a hole by the curb depending on the climate and local practice.

              The normal way of cutting power to a house in the US -- either in an emergency or due to non-payment -- is to remove the electric meter from its socket and install a glass cover plate. Besides utility workers, fire fighters are sometimes trained to do this so they can cut power to a burning house.

          5. ButlerInstitute

            Re: "Smart meters are 'dangerously insecure'"

            None of my houses was Victorian, and all had/have indoor meters. First flat was Edwardian. Next house was 1960s. Current house is 1930s.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "Smart meters are 'dangerously insecure'"

      Given that last year I have seen an application talking to a smart meter via XML-SOAP over HTTP it would be difficult to surprise me. Yes, this is not a typo, HTTP, not HTTPS. One is left to wonder whether anyone considers wiretapping in a residential inherently difficult.

  5. Doc Ock

    Yep, we've said it for ages. Do these idiots not realise that they are putting a remote kill switch into every house in Britain ?

    Perhaps that's the intention all along, beware Plankton's free (well £11bn £14bn and rising) chum bucket helmets. This will only end badly.

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      That was the entire point

      Everything else they've mentioned is known to be utterly false - tripe of the smelliest order.

      The remote kill switch is the only feature of these devices that might actually work.

  6. wolfetone Silver badge

    In Other News...

    Water is still wet.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: In Other News...

      And not provided via a smart meter.

      Yet.

  7. Dabooka Silver badge
    Stop

    What devices connect to 'Smart' meters?

    I've just moved in to a house, two weeks ago, and to my dismay found the owners had smart meters in; I guess they were a sucker for gimmicks.

    However that aside, I can't think of anything that could connect to the meter inside the house. I mean surely we'd have to be stupid enough to then purchase enabled fridges and the like and for what purpose would anyone want that?

    1. wyatt

      Re: What devices connect to 'Smart' meters?

      Potentially changing between a single rate supply and economy 7 may enable you to get a replacement meter. You may have to have this in place for a year and then change back if you wanted to.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What devices connect to 'Smart' meters?

      Phone the appropriate company and insist they are replaced with "dumb" meters.

      You are under NO legal requirement to have one of these white elephants against your will.

      1. Tom Paine Silver badge

        Re: What devices connect to 'Smart' meters?

        You are under NO legal requirement to have one of these white elephants against your will.

        And the electricity co is under no legal requirement to take instructions from you about what equipment to deploy or offer you options. You get what you're given.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: What devices connect to 'Smart' meters?

          There are PLENTY of suppliers who dont use smart meters.

          I'd happily pay an extra few £ a month to keep the damn things away from my property.

          1. Spanners Silver badge
            Black Helicopters

            Re: What devices connect to 'Smart' meters?

            There are PLENTY of suppliers who don't use smart meters.

            At present anyway. The government is in process of getting rid of "dumb" meters. Business first then the peasantry. It's running a bit late though...

    3. Tom Paine Silver badge

      Re: What devices connect to 'Smart' meters?

      As I said down-thread, the smart meters being deployed in the UK don't connect to anything else except the utility co. So the whole story appears to be bullshit, unless Eon are doing it completely differently from everyone else.

      1. Vic

        Re: What devices connect to 'Smart' meters?

        the whole story appears to be bullshit

        *Mostly* bullshit.

        These things do seem to be monumentally insecure, so breaking into the meter is probably quite easy. But why the original researcher seems to think that means unfettered access to everything the meter does eludes me, as does why even that access might meant you could make it explode...

        He seems to have demonstrated some crap security, and then turned the hype meter up to 11 in a desperate attempt to get people to take this seriously - thereby doing the exact opposite.

        Vic.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: What devices connect to 'Smart' meters?

          Well said.

          If this guy had any balls he would have a live demo running on-stage and blow the fucking thing sky-high! Anything less is merely branding.

          In regards to the article proper; Nice try, kid. Call us when you have a working demo of a device, ANY device (other than a Galaxy Note 7) "blowing up" or exploding, or just getting warm. FFS, do you have anything other than showboating, and more IoT fear-mongering? No? Then please fuck off, kid.

          Oh, and here in the US, at least in the west, all our power meters are mounted outside of the house, yes, but INSIDE the backyard, so prior to smart-meters, or smart-metres if you prefer, they had to get physical access to check it for billing. At the time we would just leave the gate unlocked, and they could check it, barring any feisty dogs. In which case they would leave a note asking for access without canine supervision on their return visit.

          1. Kiwi

            Re: What devices connect to 'Smart' meters?

            In regards to the article proper; Nice try, kid. Call us when you have a working demo of a device, ANY device (other than a Galaxy Note 7) "blowing up" or exploding, or just getting warm. FFS, do you have anything other than showboating, and more IoT fear-mongering? No? Then please fuck off, kid.

            Not quite right, but damned close. You're talking mains electricity, so way more than enough energy available to start a fire. The issue is fuses/breakers, they get in the way most of the time. But it is possible. A transformer on a TV (thinking old-school CRT here) with a dry joint - I've seen a few Philips K9 TV's (IIRC - same era anyway) with significant (ie > 1"sq holes in the circuit board where a transformer had a dry joint on one leg and the resulting arc was, over the course of a few hours, enough to cause the board to flash into flame. I know personally of two instances of a similar fault causing the TV itself to catch fire, one resulting in significant damage to the house. Thing is though, it has to heat enough to reach the materials flashpoint but not draw enough current to trip and fuses, or other devices that may fail open-circuit and act as a fuse. For a long time transformers have had "thermal fuses" in them so that they cannot catch fire. I've seen a transformer sizzling when it's thermal fuse was bypassed, but while it got very hot in the open air they tended to melt the insulation, short, and thus blow the nearest breaker. In a closed case it may be another issue (that was on a Philips GR1AX (same chassis as their "space helmet" TV's) and no not picking on Philips, just did a lot more work with them than other brands)

            So yes, devices can fail in a manner which causes them to catch fire. It is documented but fairly rare, and I would not be surprised if modern designs largely prevented this.

            However, to be able to programmatically cause a smart meter to fail in such a manner, or probably any device? I very much doubt it. It would also require significant failings of other safety measures in place, and I'd say that meter builders would be very risk-averse when it comes to their devices causing house fires, as would a number of other agencies involved in the testing and installing of those things. The guy watches too much TV (or "Final Destination" movies perhaps?), I don't believe there are any cases where you can use software to over-ride thermostats or hardware safety devices. Only in TV land would some sort of adjustable cut-out be used that can be over-ridden by software.

            Much like the good times virus of a couple of decades ago (although MS did decide to make it possible to actually have a virus (or at least buffer overflow) encoded into the subject line of an email in one of their iterations of Outlook - maybe they'll team up with Samsung and truly weaponise electronics and make this a real possibility after all!).

            1. YetAnotherLocksmith

              Re: What devices connect to 'Smart' meters?

              You could toggle the power on and off rapidly, and knock out the trip, but that's about it on any modern house. Older ones with wire fuses, that would be harder to do, but eventually the switched on stuff would get fed up and die.

              It isn't like it could inductively spark or switch thousands of volts through instead of 240!

              It could attack the grid though ,and if every house needed a visit to replace the bricked meter, well, that's a major disaster! (Elderly in winter, etc. countrywide.)

            2. Orv Silver badge

              Re: What devices connect to 'Smart' meters?

              In the US we had some fires initially attributed to defective smart meters. I think on inspection they found the problem was actually the meter *sockets*. Meters tend to stay in there for a very long time, and apparently swapping them sometimes resulted in the new meter having a high-resistance connection to the socket. The contacts would then overheat under heavy load.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          as does why even that access might meant you could make it explode...

          I wish someone would explain the reasoning for the exploding meter.

          Does it contact Amazon for drone delivery to the premises of C4 w/cap or?

          1. DrM

            Re: as does why even that access might meant you could make it explode...

            He is a new-age programmer, and thinks the world of HW like a smart meter is the same chaotic, unpredictable, insecure, crap-SW world he lives in.

    4. Egghead & Boffin

      Re: What devices connect to 'Smart' meters?

      You could have checked what meters they had before you moved or made an offer.

      1. Dabooka Silver badge

        Re: What devices connect to 'Smart' meters?

        @Egghead

        You're right of course, but even if I knew there were there it isn't a deal breaker. School location etc is somewhat more meaningful in reality, and knocking the house back because of this (when we'll all end up at some point anyway) would have probably got me a divorce for free too.

        Anyway I think it's early one as it's branded EON so assume it's incompatible with everything anyway!

  8. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Unhappy

    I think I know what 'their' answer will be

    Force everyone to install very expensive battery backup systems in their cellars - no cellar, you'll have to dig one.

    This won't stop your entire home getting controlled, but it will protect the important profits of the grid companies, as well as maintaining GCHQ snooping capability

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Could I ask a stupid question?

    Who or why did someone think it pertinent to allow a "smart" meter/metre to control the flow of the current? Switching on/off I understand (though I don't agree)

    1. Tom Paine Silver badge
      Megaphone

      Presumably for the same reason that key token meters exist (though I assume no-one on El Reg is poor enough to have to schlepp down to the local convenience store to stick more credit on your gas or electricity token at 9pm on a cold January night so you have hot water next morning.)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Poor?

        Poor has fuck all to do with it you pompous twat.

        Most private rented accomodation has pre payment meters.

        Most housing association properties are also fitted with pre pay.

        I resent the implication i am poor because i have one. Im not poor, nor am i wealthly but no-one is knocking on my door collecting money.

        Besides, as i pay for my fuel UPFRONT and therefore it is impossible for me to acrue a huge debt, why the fuck should i be penalised for that?!?!?!?

        1. YetAnotherLocksmith

          Re: Poor?

          Prepayment meters are massively over represented in the poorer neighbourhoods. That's a fact.

          Yes, a lot of landlords also fit their own, to try to avoid warrant teams breaking in and cutting off their tenants for non-payment. Make sure the landlord is actually paying the power company though, if they are private meters.

          Yes, these meters can be remotely switched to off and even been "prepay" & "credit", and it means there will be a hell of a lot of underemployed locksmiths soon, as well as meter readers and gas/electric meter fitters!

          That's one reason I've scaled them right back - 5 years, and assuming we aren't all dead or homeless from trumping & Maybe doing us over, and the daily work that keeps about 300 expert locksmiths fed will be gone. Which may lead to some, er, issues...

  10. This post has been deleted by its author

  11. Chris 125

    Much of this seems to be US-Centric, with talk of HVAC and the like.

    In the UK, Smart Meters are dumb meters that can be read, and turned off remotely. Typically they only talk to the remote display that tells you exactly how far you have to bend over because you've had the central heating on for 12 minutes. (Although to be fair, most seem to have Zigbee so COULD talk to other IoT devices, if you had them, and they were in pairing mode)

    The connection to your consumer unit / fuse box is via twin and earth, and the consumer unit is just a bank of switches. No smart stuff there. Controlling your smart meter remotely cannot turn on and off individual circuits, it can only turn on and off the thing as a whole.

    In addition, you've got a fuse - somewhere between 60A and 100A - protecting your house. It's the box with the serial number tag on. If someone really wanted to mess around with your stuff, and even if they found a way to flip the whole thing on and off to try and cause an "explosion" (I think they mean fire, but explosion sounds better) then the fuse would pop way before enough current was drawn to make your wires "explode". And then each circuit is protected by some sort of overcurrent device, so you can't even try to feed all 100A to the kettle to make that pop. The 20A breaker on that circuit would trip first.

    In short, someone has been watching too many films.

    1. Tom Paine Silver badge

      Thanks for confirming my hunch: this story is bullshit from start to finish. Nice to see El Reg hasn't become *completely* "professionalised" yet ;)

      1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

        Re: Tom Paine

        Well, dang. We've updated the article with a little more info and background - basically, given the whole thing a healthy dose of skepticism.

        C.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: healthy dose of scepticism

          I just re-read the article and other than the newly added incorrect reference to a spoof newspaper (it was "weekly world news" not "world weekly news" - as your 2000 article clearly understood) I'm not seeing that much difference. What do other folk see?

          The smart meter "explosion" the presenter references is, aiui, in Ontario. There is plenty of trustworthy info on meters in Ontario being recalled because of an electrical fault which could and did lead to overheating and fires. Seek and ye shall find. In doing so you will probably also find the same events being used as source material for the tinfoil hatters in the "EMFs are bad for you" crew. I'm not sure which of them is least entertaining.

          Anyway, was there really nothing more newsworthy than this, at the recent CCC?

          This session was also covered on Dec 29 in the new unimproved Guardian, by someone called Alex Hern. The article wasn't open for comments. Anyone want to SnapBook him a printout of this discussion?

    2. Andy The Hat Silver badge

      not quite ...

      a) There's never a "twin and earth" connection between the meter and the CU in the UK ... please don't pretend to sound like an electrician ...

      b) I didn't notice the statement that 'the wires would explode'. What can (and does) happen is rapid cycling of the power will kill some psus as the input surge suppressor will not have time to cool sufficiently between cycles. It's the reason it's good practice to leave several seconds between powering down and restarting a device. If you don't believe me, power cycle your most expensive device every second and tell me how long the power supply lasted before the psu died ...

      Having said that, without individual device control, I would expect breakers to pop before too much died ... although using horrible US electrical installations may cause individual mileage to vary ...

      1. egc

        Re: not quite ...

        Quite correct Andy.

        "Twin and Earth" (T&E) is exactly what it says - two "insulated live conductors" ( now blue and brown in the UK) and an uninsulated " CPC " conductor all in one overall PVC sheath, ( usually coloured Grey - but can be white etc ..

        CPC - - that is a "circuit protective conductor" that provides an return path in the event of a fault in the load which the twin and earth is feeding - such that a protective device will operate and disconnect the supply. The cpc conductor in a twin and earth cable is of a smaller cross sectional area than the live conductors.

        Typical conductor cross sectional areas for T&E in most domestic installations are : 1.00mm (usually lighting), 1.5mm, 2.5mm (usually ring main) 4.00mm (immersion heaters, 6.00mm (cooker) and 10mm.(high current devices like showers) ( note = mm = millimetres squared !)

        Of course - cable sizing is dependant upon each installation design requirements so the above is only "general" - NOT absolute !!

        NONE of the typical T&E sizes ( even 10mm) are sufficiently large to carry to total load current from the meter to the CU. These connections ( or meter tails) are separate LIVE conductors - typically 25mm^2 for an average domestic CU installation .. and the Earth conductor from the CU is a separate conductor also - and its connection point will depend on the type of supply ( TT TN-s TN-c etc)

        Anyway - as I've said elsewhere - what I'D LIKE to know is

        WHAT reading on a smart meter takes LEGAL preference in the event of a dispute ?

        The ONE I SEE on the meter -and can read regularly ( which I would do if I had one installed) - OR .... the one the supply authority takes remotely that I DONT SEE ??

        SO far -no one in the supply authority, or the company that installs these devices can answer this - so I have refused to have one installed

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: someone has been watching too many films

      Looking to a berry through a microscope you have missed both the bush it is on and the forest. If a smart meter switches off and on in a quick succession for example a pump, it could be timed to enter mechanical resonance. All this within the limits of the fuse. As already mentioned simultaneous flipping of thousands of homes could combine into high enough current.

    4. tiggity Silver badge

      Explode away

      Explode describes what can happen in some situations quite well.

      We have the (sadly UK ubiquitous) outside meter in a (not very) protective box ("consumer unit" with cutouts is inside the house).

      Several years ago, storms and gale force winds overcame the feeble protection .. water ingress into the box.

      An impressively loud bang, big flash, house vibrated and when I went to have a close look - lots of destroyed external supply cabling (& followed by irritated neighbours as external cable damage meant their power supply was lost)

      So, explosions do happen, just that they are likely to be nothing to do with the smart meter explosion scenario & down to dumb & dismal British weather.combined with stupid box positions.

      1. DropBear Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: Explode away

        I have no way of knowing exactly what kind of destruction the bloke had in mind, but I can definitely confirm even chunky PCB traces asplode in a very entertaining manner when you fail to heed your home AC's manual's warning not to power the thing down and back up in relatively quick succession (once is quite enough when done "properly"). We were making some mains switching gear at the time (which you'd call "IoT" today) when we learned that particular lesson at the cost of a thoroughly destroyed device (also, fun fact: a 100W 0.5 amp tungsten bulb will happily blow your 25-amp peak current triac the millisecond it decides to burn out). So no, I don't think he's necessarily fibbing at all.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ahem

    "An attacker who controls the meter also controls its software, allowing them to literally blow the meter up."

    That would be by running the machine-level instruction HCF (Halt and Catch Fire)?

    Apparently such software can also "cause a short in the electricity system", presumably by making a piece of metal appear by magic across two terminals. Or did the designers install a software-controlled relay specifically for shorting out the electricity system?

    The security problems with smart meters are very serious, and very real. Unfortunately, this guy is doing a *disservice* to the community by spouting obvious bullshit like this, because it taints the message about the genuine problems.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Ahem

      "this guy is doing a *disservice* to the community by spouting obvious bullshit like this,"

      Yes and no. There's a lot of bullshit about, especially once you start looking, and the more widely known it gets, the more closely people will (hopefully) look before wasting time and money on this particular kind of bullshit.

      Only watch this guy's advertising video (that's what it was) if you have 45 minutes to waste (I'd seen it written up elsewhere several days ago, and didn't believe what I'd read, so wanted to cut out the clearly-clueless author of the New Guardian article, which wasn't open for comments). You can treat it as radio if you wish and do something more useful at the same time.

      The Q+A (last quarter hour or so) is possibly more interesting than the presentation.

      Someone in the audience, someone with knowledge of the engineering, challenged the presenter on "blowing up meters by remote control". Answer: bluster.

      Someone in the audience asked the presenter whether this was a bigger or smaller problem than the Y2038 issue, given that the meters allegedly have a 2-decade-plus lifecycle. The presenter clearly had no idea what the Y2038 problem was; fortunately the questioner let him stew gently.

      Overall verdict on this session: This is a person/company/product/service to avoid. Thanks for the heads up.

      Should CCC have provided airtime for this guy's advertisement? That's a more interesting topic than the session itself. Related question: should El Reg have provided airtime for this guy's advertisement? Probable answer: thanks for the heads up, no thanks for wasting my time.

      .

      I think I preferred Professor Ross Anderson's smartmeter stuff, even though it's a few years since I saw anything new from him on this subject.

      1. Stoneshop Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: Ahem

        Someone in the audience, someone with knowledge of the engineering, challenged the presenter on "blowing up meters by remote control". Answer: bluster.

        I know the guy who tore into that "explode" nonsense (guessed who it was before I opened the video, and indeed). Worked for a company building, testing and certifying electricity meters and related gear until recently, and knows his stuff. Ran into him yesterday, so I got an accurate and first-hand description of the way the presenter was full of it.

        1. An ominous cow heard
          Pint

          Re: the guy who tore into that "explode" nonsense

          "I know the guy who tore into that "explode" nonsense ... I got an accurate and first-hand description of the way the presenter was full of it."

          Would you please pass on my thanks to the questioner: for the question itself, for the timing (first question?) and for the relatively calm manner in which the questioner let the presenter make himself look like a clueless idiot.

          Seriously, the world needs fewer presenters like this one, and more questioners like this one. Especially the world where IT/IoT meets engineering.

          1. Stoneshop Silver badge
            Pint

            Re: the guy who tore into that "explode" nonsense

            Would you please pass on my thanks to the questioner

            Ack. Will offer him a BioLimo, as he doesn't do beer or other alcoholics.

      2. smudge Silver badge
        WTF?

        Re: Ahem

        The presenter clearly had no idea what the Y2038 problem was; fortunately the questioner let him stew gently.

        So I watched the Q&A to see this. And I have to say that you are talking bollocks.

        The guy clearly knew what the problem was, and indeed asked to confirm that it was about the date. He then twice said "I have no idea" - meaning that he had no idea whether smart meters were affected - and then said "Maybe they'll need a software update.".

        He may have been a prat. He may have been scaremongering. But at least he was honest there. And making stuff up when you attack him puts you in the Donald Trump school of post-truth.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          WTF else is a Y2038 issue going to be?

          "indeed asked to confirm that it was about the date."

          Of course he did, WTF else is it going to be?

          Anyone who plays in or near the world of embedded software, or even has a clue about date handling in general, knows *exactly* what the Y2038 problem is, and could have provided an answer which would have been far more helpful to the audience (or at least far more clearly demonstrated his understanding of this issue) than the non-answers which emerged from this chap during his advertisement.

          Maybe fiddling with the date might even have provided an attack vector for the alleged fuzzing tool his company is providing. Maybe. He clearly doesn't know the answer, and barely understands the particular question.

          Normally I'd suggest people watch/listen and draw their own conclusion, but in this case I really don't want to have any more people's time wasted on this blatantly obvious timewaster.

        2. Kiwi
          FAIL

          Re: Ahem

          He may have been a prat. He may have been scaremongering. But at least he was honest there. And making stuff up when you attack him puts you in the Donald Trump school of post-truth.

          Tell me, if the AC deserves to be "in the Donald Trump school of post-truth" as you put it, where does that place the guy making the claims that hackers could blow things up with smart meters, hmm?

    2. heyrick Silver badge
      WTF?

      Re: Ahem

      "Apparently such software can also "cause a short in the electricity system","

      WTF? While I understand the concept of a crowbar circuit, to apply that to an electricity meter in order to trip the main (60A?) fuse is batshit crazy. It'd be far simpler to have a very small crowbar on the +V supply that powers the meter electronics. Blow a (500mA?) fuse, the meter never turns on, no power delivered to the house. You've achieved the same ends without attempting to cook the master fuse (and quite possibly the rest of the property given the places those things tend to be put).

      1. Stoneshop Silver badge

        Re: Ahem

        Blow a (500mA?) fuse, the meter never turns on, no power delivered to the house.

        Only if the meter incorporates a circuit breaker, which is not universally the case. And if there's a crowbar circuit in the supply for the meter electronics it should be autonomous, not controllable from the circuit it's trying to protect. Same with the voltage regulator(s), so good luck trying to get that part of the circuit to go poof under software control.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Alarmist nonsense?

    I am no expert in this are but this seems alarmist nonsense. Smart meters do not have the ability to turn of the current they just monitor the current (the clue is in the name) so talk of blackout etc is rubbish. The idea of causingf explosions is even more far fetched even if they could control the current they cannot create an explosion unless the connected device can be made to explode simply by turning the power on and off. This is not the case and if it was whenever power was restored after a power cut there would be issues. All devices connected to the mains supply have protection against over current and the supply itself is also protected.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Alarmist nonsense?

      Smart meters do not have the ability to turn of the current they just monitor the current (the clue is in the name) so talk of blackout etc is rubbish.

      The ones in Spain a) can cut off the current remotely under the control of the electricity company and b) are hackable (search for 'contador inteligente hackear' or similar).

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Alarmist nonsense?

      Some of the "smart" meters in the UK must have switch-off capability as they're being offered to pre-pay customers too.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Alarmist nonsense?

        > Some of the "smart" meters in the UK must have switch-off capability as they're being offered to pre-pay customers too.

        There is a difference between a remote switch-off capability, and a remote short-circuit / catch fire capability.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Alarmist nonsense?

      "Smart meters do not have the ability to turn of the current they just monitor the current (the clue is in the name) so talk of blackout etc is rubbish."

      French Linky definitely has capabilities to turn the current off. Why else would those bastards at EDF want to install those, otherwise ?

    4. wolfetone Silver badge

      Re: Alarmist nonsense?

      "Smart meters do not have the ability to turn of the current they just monitor the current"

      You'll find out soon enough when you don't pay your bill and you get cut off remotely.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Alarmist nonsense?

        "You'll find out soon enough when you don't pay your bill and you get cut off remotely."

        At least in the UK, the more significant scenario is when national electricity demand exceeds short term electricity supply, brownouts no longer work for demand reduction, and wide area non-selective disconnections are no longer acceptable.

        Selective remote disconnections of a small fraction of customers across a large part of the UK *might* have had the desired effect of a near-instant worthwhile reduction in demand, without the consequences of cutting off every small(ish) customer in a given area). Well they might have had if the rollout hadn't been ill thought out and badly executed.

        If small-scale smart meters were just remotely accessible usage monitors they wouldn't need an expensive remotely controllable off switch to the outgoing supply. But they do, and now Andrew Wright, Ofgem senior partner and former acting Chief Executive, has let the cat out of the bag, though Ofgem spinners later tried to undo the damage Wright had done.

        Who needs Russian hackers on the grid when you've got Littlechild and his successors :(

        Why do smart meters have a remotely controlled off switch:

        http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/12/11/britain-facing-energy-crisis-could-could-see-families-pay-extra/

        Wide area non-selective disconnections for demand management (2008):

        http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/7423169.stm

        "Electricity supplies have returned to normal following countrywide blackouts on Tuesday, the National Grid has said.

        Hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses across London, Cheshire, Merseyside and East Anglia lost power.

        Blackouts were caused by Sizewell B nuclear plant in Suffolk and Longannet coal-fired station in Fife going off-line within minutes of each other. [...]"

      2. Tom Paine Silver badge

        Re: Alarmist nonsense?

        How did the electricity co turn off your supply when you didn't pay your bill in the ancient times of spinning-metal-wheel meters, then? Hint: they didn't send an engineer out to your home.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: turn off your supply

          "How did the electricity co turn off your supply when you didn't pay your bill in the ancient times of spinning-metal-wheel meters, then? Hint: they didn't send an engineer out to your home."

          Everywhere I've ever lived or visited in the UK, that's exactly what they would have had to do (assuming we're not splitting hairs over the definition of "engineer", which is a valid point, but not relevant here).

          What other option do you think they had prior to a "smart meter" with a remote controlled off switch?

        2. Vic

          Re: Alarmist nonsense?

          How did the electricity co turn off your supply when you didn't pay your bill in the ancient times of spinning-metal-wheel meters, then? Hint: they didn't send an engineer out to your home.

          Well, I've only been disconnected once in my life - but yes, they did send a bloke out.

          Vic.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Hint: they didn't send an engineer out to your home.

          Well, they did here in the US - at least in some places at some time. They would literally disconnect your wires, preferably - from their standpoint - up at the pole, to make it harder for the home-owner to reconnect. Maybe that was reserved for the intractable cases?

          1. Kiwi

            Re: Hint: they didn't send an engineer out to your home.

            Well, they did here in the US - at least in some places at some time. They would literally disconnect your wires, preferably - from their standpoint - up at the pole, to make it harder for the home-owner to reconnect. Maybe that was reserved for the intractable cases?

            I'm not calling you a liar, but I do find it hard to believe. In the country where you can be sued for significant (and crippling) sums of money because a burglar cut themselves breaking in (is that real or just urban myth) or someone can sue because a cup of hot coffee really was unexpectedly a cup of hot coffee and they burnt themselves when the spilled it.. Well, the insurance and other costs of having an electrician get hurt because they were up a pole disconnecting someone's power because of a dispute with the power co? When they do have other options?

            Do you realise what it takes to safely do that? You have to have some way to cut the power to the wires before you disconnect them, which either means some sort of switch/isolator for each house on the poles or cutting off a larger number of consumers (and your company will be sued if one of the poor dears got upset because they missed a few minutes of some crappy daytime tv show)

            There's a lot more involved than just unplugging some cables.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              I'm not calling you a liar, but I do find it hard to believe.

              Here they are called linemen and employed by the electric utility.

              When I said "intractable" - I believe most were disconnected at the meter, but some individuals would then bypass the meter to get their power back.

              Hence the resort of climbing the pole and disconnecting them there - which I would think is no different and no more dangerous than hooking up the service in the first place. It's the exact same thing they'd have to do if the building was torn down, and only affects the one customer.

              1. Orv Silver badge

                Re: I'm not calling you a liar, but I do find it hard to believe.

                "Hence the resort of climbing the pole and disconnecting them there - which I would think is no different and no more dangerous than hooking up the service in the first place."

                In rural areas it's also sometimes possible to open a fused disconnect at the primary side of the transformer. This is the little frame with what looks like a white piece of pipe in it. It can be opened with a fiberglass "hot stick" from a bucket truck, or sometimes even from the ground. In town that's not always an option because one pole transformer often serves multiple houses.

                The white cylinder is the transformer's overload and short protection. It's called an "expulsion fuse" and has a fusible link inside a sealed cylinder. When there's too much current, the link melts, but because of the voltages and currents involved it's immediately replaced by an arc. The arc heats the air inside the tube, building up pressure, until the end plug blows out. Since one of the wires is connected to the end plug, the wire falls free, extinguishing the arc. They make a tremendous boom when they go, sounds like a shotgun being fired.

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  They make a tremendous boom when they go, sounds like a shotgun being fired.

                  Not recommended is trying to cut underground power cables, hoping to sell them for scrap.

                  Don't know if anyone actually heard it, but they did find the poor recycler in the service tunnel when investigating the problem. He was a little burnt up over the whole thing.

              2. Kiwi

                Re: I'm not calling you a liar, but I do find it hard to believe.

                Hence the resort of climbing the pole and disconnecting them there - which I would think is no different and no more dangerous than hooking up the service in the first place. It's the exact same thing they'd have to do if the building was torn down, and only affects the one customer.

                Where poles exist. Not all of us have them.

                Often suburbs are created in one hit, and the electrical supply is done at the same time, in that when they put the pole up they also put up the wires to each house off that pole. Poles get replaced of course, and other repairs have to be done at times, but safety means avoiding risk, so they limit the number of times people have to go up poles.

                I can understand popping the fuse link from a pole should someone be bypassing their meter. But the times I've had to have power turned on to a place it's never involved someone coming out to visit. Well, in one disputed case yes someone came out - but that was because of the previous owners and the company was doing a physical first read. The meter reader did not turn the power on, he just told them to go ahead when they were ready, which IIRC was another hour or so.

        4. Kiwi
          Holmes

          Re: Alarmist nonsense?

          How did the electricity co turn off your supply when you didn't pay your bill in the ancient times of spinning-metal-wheel meters, then? Hint: they didn't send an engineer out to your home.

          What I'd love to know is why the downvotes for an honest post?

          It has long been known that when you get blackouts, people have a tendency to pay bills that are behind. I've seen a lot of blackouts in my time and I've not once heard someone say something like "Can't be because we didn't pay the bill, they haven't sent an engineer around". Even in the 70's people assumed the the power companies could remotely turn your power off.

          Ripple switches may've had something to do with that. Remote control of hot water cylinders takes only slightly less effort than remote control of a house's power, you only need a bigger set of contacts and one per phase.

          1. YetAnotherLocksmith

            Re: Alarmist nonsense?

            Because it is wrong.

            Engineers are sent out, daily, across the country. To cut off businesses and, mostly, force non-payers onto pre-pay with built-in debt recovery.

            See the Rights of Entry (Gas and Electricity Boards) Act 1954 & Gas & Electricity Act 1968,as ammended.

            1. Kiwi

              Re: Alarmist nonsense?

              Engineers are sent out, daily, across the country. To cut off businesses and, mostly, force non-payers onto pre-pay with built-in debt recovery.

              Ok, to fit a pre-pay unit requires physically changing some of the stuff in the box, including some types of meters (some have pre-pay functionality available and in the case of at least one model I'm aware of just needed the keypad unit plugged in to work as pre-pay), so yes that would require an engineer.

              And many businesses don't have household levels of power coming in, some have their own substation even, so that also requires at least one engineer.

              However, the post was about households getting their power cut off, and as such is not wrong. Unless the UK is a hell of a long way behind the rest of the world's supply perhaps? (In NZ we have large hydro stations that have been operated entirely by remote since the mid 80's so maybe our control infrastructure is better than some other places?)

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Unless the UK is a hell of a long way behind the rest of the world's supply perhaps?

                Actually from the US, and the situation varies as to where you are. Everywhere that I've lived, power has been supplied by a local utility, usually a private company (here it is a co-op) serving a limited area. Age also plays a factor: in the neighborhood I was describing houses still had a lot of "knob and tube" wiring, and the power infrastructure was from about the same date.

                Also, every house I've owned, including brand new, has the meter on the outside.

                What might also be different: Line of demarcation is generally power company from the meter out, home owner from the meter in - although what is inside generally has to pass an inspection.

                What is now called Ameren in the St Louis area had coal fired plants (Labadie), nuclear (Callaway), hydropower (Bagnell) and a "battery" plant (Taumsauk) all within a couple hours from each other.

                1. Kiwi

                  Re: Unless the UK is a hell of a long way behind the rest of the world's supply perhaps?

                  Actually from the US, and the situation varies as to where you are. Everywhere that I've lived, power has been supplied by a local utility, usually a private company (here it is a co-op) serving a limited area. Age also plays a factor: in the neighborhood I was describing houses still had a lot of "knob and tube" wiring, and the power infrastructure was from about the same date.

                  In NZ we used to have lots of small suppliers, often at a district level. Did mean no competition, but they were co-ops also owned largely by the town with profits going back into the town. Not sure exactly when that ended but in the mid 90's some utter complete [multiple expletives deleted]wonderful person in government had a complete [more expletives]brain fartbrilliant idea and brought in a whole change to the power industry that pushed prices way up making it hard for many poor people esp pensioners to afford hot meals and home heating in wintersignificantly reduced costs for everyone exactly as promised. Now we have several billing companies, the lines network owned by separate company/ies (all government owned I believe), several generation companies (all completely independently government owned, at least up till National sold off the national assets), so your power can be generated by one lot, transmitted by lines owned by another lot, and billed to you by another group who only manage the billing even though the account is officially with them. It's uncertain who has "ownership" of the meters as they should belogn to the billing company but maybe a 4th or 5th company handles that. I do know that in the meter box outside all the meters are different, no two flats have the same model. This is probably a large part of why we have the ability for the billing companies to remotely cut off your power.

                  Also, every house I've owned, including brand new, has the meter on the outside.

                  The home I grew up in had the meter just inside the front door. Every other house I've been in had the meters outside, some with the fuse/breaker box also outside (most have a bank of breakers inside though). Last house I was in was a double unit and had whole lot in the neighbours back yard, meaning if you didn't get on with the neighbour you might have trouble changing a fuse!

                  What might also be different: Line of demarcation is generally power company from the meter out, home owner from the meter in - although what is inside generally has to pass an inspection.

                  I believe that's the same here, only.. See above..

        5. Kiwi

          Re: Alarmist nonsense?

          Hint: they didn't send an engineer out to your home.

          Another question for the downvoters/naysayers.. A hell of a lot of cities have had underground power cables for decades. The placee I am in now is a 1960's vintage house and it obviously has never had pole-supplied power. Disconnecting the wires would've been a monumental undertaking, and more than one household would've been affected. Best they could do would be to pull the building's fuse, but that puts everyone out.

          So in the event that this property needed some non-payer's power cut, how would they do it?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: cables: underground vs pole mount

            "A hell of a lot of cities have had underground power cables for decades." (and the rest)

            Well spotted, saved me some typing.

        6. AndrueC Silver badge
          Thumb Down

          Re: Alarmist nonsense?

          Hint: they didn't send an engineer out to your home.

          The only thing they can do without sending someone to my home is to switch off the local substation. Possibly inside there are a bank of switches that could just isolate my circuit..except that I'm on the same cable as my neighbour. I know that because when they converted their garage into a room they had to have the cable rerouted. I had a brief outage while they patched the old cable out and the new cable in.

          I can also see where two socking great cables come out of the floor and go up to the consumer unit. I assume that one is feeding me and the other is then continuing on to my neighbour. I can see enough of them (thanks Wilcon) to tell that they head off in different directions. And above ground power cables are very unusual in the UK. In fact seeing any cables above ground is uncommon. Most houses built in that last half century have telephone lines underground as well.

          But even if they send someone out..they will still need access to my garage since that's where the consumer unit and main switch are.

          1. YetAnotherLocksmith

            Re: Alarmist nonsense?

            Very rarely, we use this device called a digger, which allows access to underground things. But that is rare. Normally it is done at the meter.

          2. Kiwi

            Re: Alarmist nonsense?

            The only thing they can do without sending someone to my home is to switch off the local substation.

            Must be a rather backwards place you live in then. In NZ, at least since the 1990s, PowerCo's have been able to switch power on and off remotely. And considering that back then meters were only replaced if they were known to be faulty, the places I lived in would've had older meters and must have had that functionality for longer.

            Also, in NZ we have security seals on our meters and any other units in the meter box (ripple switches and the like). These would need someone properly qualified to re-seal and document the sealing if they had to open them up to cut off the power. That would make the effort more expensive than many unpaid bills.

            I'm not certain that I recall our power being cut off for non-payment as a kid, but if it did happen then one moment we had power the next we didn't. No one from the power co in the house (would be a bugger for them as refusal to allow entry would mean they couldn't cut off power) or at the pole outside. There was a transformer down the road a wee way, but that only had a few cables off it (6 IIRC, probably 3phase in and out to feed the street), and the odd pole-mounted switch which knocked out a whole block in one hit. To disconnect a house manually they'd have to shut down a number of houses, and they just did not do that. So even in the 70's and 80's there must have been a way to remotely shut off power, and as I mentioned earlier ripple switches for hot water systems have been around at least as long as I have.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Alarmist nonsense?

      Have you seen pre-paid meter not capable of cutting the power off? How many of the said meters are not going to be replaced with smart ones?

    6. Kiwi
      FAIL

      Re: Alarmist nonsense?

      Smart meters do not have the ability to turn of the current they just monitor the current (the clue is in the name) so talk of blackout etc is rubbish.

      In NZ, even before smart meters (but perhaps only in more recent years), electricity companies have had the ability to remotely turn on or off specific houses power.

      Of course, there are also the "ripple switches" for controlling water heaters, so they can turn them off remotely during times of peak current. They've been around at least since the 70's and are generally part of the overall "meter box" and I think in a few cases part of the meter itself.

      Smart meters can be used to remotely turn the houses power on or off, and IIRC it's a part of their advertised features - the powerco no longer needs to charge you $70 to send someone round to your house to disconnect/reconnect your power, they just do it remotely and charge you a $69.95 "Power Continuity Fee" or somesuch.

      The idea of causingf explosions is even more far fetched even if they could control the current they cannot create an explosion unless the connected device can be made to explode simply by turning the power on and off.

      True. Though startup loads on some devices, if repeated enough, might cause a small component to literally explode, it's likely that said explosion would be so small it could happen in your hand and not do more than very minor burns.

      This is not the case and if it was whenever power was restored after a power cut there would be issues.

      If the cut is over a large enough area, there are issues, but power is generally restored in stages and that can be done over a long period of time (our recent earthquake saw a large part of my city and some neighbouring areas blacked out, power was restored I think over about 12 hours to the area) And a few years back I lived in a house where having the computers, jug and fridge or freezer turn on inside 2 minutes could pop the breakers. I know this coz I'd often get home, turn on jug, computers, hear fridge turn on followed by the clack as the breaker popped. Soon moved things to other circuits.

      All devices connected to the mains supply have protection against over current and the supply itself is also protected.

      An electric bar heater generates plenty enough heat for paper to reach flashpoint, same for stove elements and the like (stoves can make oil and meat and other stuff also burst into flame if it doesn't go to charcoal before it reaches temperature). But it has to do it drawing less current than is needed for the fuse/breaker to blow. Not an explosion, but plenty bad enough if you don't catch it in time.

  14. 's water music Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    I can haz smart meter haxxored?

    I hope nobody hacks my smart meter and reverses the unit counter because I certainly wouldn't know anything about that if it happened.

    Innocent face-->

    1. Alister Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: I can haz smart meter haxxored?

      Innocent face-->

      Really? You think Paris is the face of innocence? Blimey...

      1. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

        Re: I can haz smart meter haxxored?

        Really? You think Paris is the face of innocence? Blimey...

        That does prove HIS innocence, which was the actual intention :)

        1. wolfetone Silver badge
          Gimp

          Re: I can haz smart meter haxxored?

          Oh, I thought Paris' face was for something else.

          Me and my filthy mind.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: I can haz smart meter haxxored?

            Oh, I thought Paris' face was for something else.

            To be fair, he DID talk about reversing..

            :)

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    All his has at least one advantage ..

    It has convinced me that making sure I have some power generation backup is no longer optional when a smart meter arrives here, it's mandatory. Someone cutting power does that for a reason.

    1. Chris 125

      Re: All his has at least one advantage ..

      Well yeah, by far the most likely reason for cutting your electricity is you've not paid your bills.Can't think a diesel genny in the garden is a more cost effective solution that just making sure your bills get paid.

      Or are you talking about terrorists launching a attack whilst the power is out? Can't think you're that important that they'll target you, and if they want to do a whole area then a few well placed explosives under pylons should sort that without any fannying around hacking into things.

      Smart Meters haven't opened up any new possibilities, I saw a documentary once about how terrorists managed to knock out the power so they could cause chaos and steal a load of gold. All they did was lob a bike into a substation. And then they drove the gold away in a load of Minis, and there was a bit with a coach and a "great idea".

      1. Stoneshop Silver badge
        FAIL

        Re: All his has at least one advantage ..

        and if they want to do a whole area then a few well placed explosives under pylons should sort that without any fannying around hacking into things.

        Explosively disassembling a few pylons is not something you can do sitting at your computer in Outer Elbonia, at least not without some prior onsite preparation..

  16. Tom Paine Silver badge

    Smart meters can communicate with devices inside homes, such as air conditioners, fridges, and the like.

    I'm confused. I've got a smart meter; apart from a useless little touch screen gadget with no manual that's supposed to allow me to track my consumption in some unexplained manner, the only other difference is that it talks to the electrical supply co to report back meter readings. I don't have any "smart house" crap like multi-coloured lightbulbs or wifi-enabled toasters, but even if i did, the meter wouldn't talk to them (why would it??)

    What am I misunderstanding here? Or is this whole story nonsense? clue welcomed...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Tom Paine: "What am I misunderstanding here? "

      Good question. Here's a start.

      You're missing the fact that in line with modern practice, the same words can mean entirely different things, and that identifying which ones are relevant to any particular discussion may need further effort.

      I have a £50 retail electricity monitor which tells me how much electricity I've used, by means of a clip on sensor. I'm deliberately ignoring details like phase angle, as does the current monitor. Some people call this functionality a "smart meter".

      The £200+ per customer "smart meters" in *this presentation* and this broader discussion are what *the industry* has been calling smart meters, even though their capability (and their cost) is far beyond that of the fundamental needs of an electricity monitor. E.g. remotely accessible selective disconnection.

      Any clearer?

  17. The BigYin

    Physical security?

    > The physical security of the meter is strong

    What? It's on the outside of the house in a non-locking enclosure. There is NO physical security!

    1. Stoneshop Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: Physical security?

      What? It's on the outside of the house in a non-locking enclosure.

      Maybe yours is, but mine is most definitely not.

  18. Tezfair
    Coat

    I have no issue with smart meters...

    So long as a hacker does a reset a few times a year and brings my leccy bills down

  19. Egghead & Boffin

    UK encryption

    I can tell you for a fact that his comments on weak encryption don't apply in the UK. I know, I worked on it. It's strong and end-to-end. It was reviewed and approved by CESG and several professors of cryptography. I can't speak for anywhere else, but ours is good.

    1. Smooth Newt Silver badge
      Stop

      Re: UK encryption

      I can tell you for a fact that his comments on weak encryption don't apply in the UK.

      Strong encryption is easy, it's just an algorithm you can look up. But it is the implementation which usually has the bugs, side channel attacks and other holes that let you down. Or other issues like key management - it doesn't really matter how good the encryption is if the keys are stored on some vulnerable Internet-connected computer.

      1. Richard 12 Silver badge

        Re: UK encryption

        Not to mention rubber-hose decryption.

        If the target is sufficiently valuable to an attacker - for example, the ability to completely destroy the National Grid on demand - then some actors will go ahead and apply the hose.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Good theme but details wobbly

    Yes, many "smart meters" have security problems. Some due to poor meter design, some due to poor protocol design but his quoted comments are too vague. (For example, ZigBee Smart Energy comms have the option of being encrypted with AES and session keys generated via ECC-MQV. If you knock this on the head, well, good luck to you.)

  21. HCV

    Debunked

    I asked my smart meter if there was any credence to any of this. It said, "chill."

  22. heyrick Silver badge

    About that fake news article

    You know, in the olden days, it was possible to reprogram the video controller to send out flat DC instead of sync pulses. Some (CRT) monitors could be coaxed into losing their magic smoke as a result of this.

  23. Breen Whitman

    My understanding is the child pornography community is using smart meters to store and deliver their horrific interests as no one is looking at that.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hackers are real!

    They hacked me and turned me into newt!

    I got better though.

  25. DrM
    Stop

    Serious crap

    On most meters, the output port connected to the blasting cap in the destruct charge is heavily protected.

  26. Willyn

    Smart meters are lethal

    We have been fitted with a Smart Meter here in Spain by Iberdrola that has an automatic current overload set to 2.2kW. This can been upgraded to 5kW but using the same small cable and will cost us twice as much for meter rent. The meter is sited outside in the road in a meter box that can easily be opened by anyone; it has to be. If the meter is overloaded it switches off, so now in the middle of the night with a torch and may be in the pouring rain you have go to the box in the road, open it and now comes the lethal part; YOU, (who may not be an electrician) HAVE TO PUT YOUR WET HANDS ON THE MAIN INCOMING FUSES AND PULL THEM OUT. Wait 10 seconds, press the button, wait 5 seconds and then push back in the main fuses. In our case this trips the RCD switch in the house which must now be reset. OH! Let us not forget you have to reset clocks and any other item and restart the computer. In my box the top fuse connection is open to being touched with wet hands. The instructions indicate that there is an isolation switch but again opening the box in the rain and interfering with anything live is not to be recommended. Of course you can call upon an electrician at a very high cost and also the meter has been known to trip out during an electrical storm.

    I am a qualified Electrical technician and NEVER have I ever known that members of the public are allowed to interfere with the company’s main incoming fuses. NO there is no isolator between the incoming supply and the meter.

    One last point; the company sells electricity by the kW so what is to be gained in restricting the usage 2.2kW with a meter when the supply fuse is 20A? If a hacker is able to switch the supply on/off on/off then where there is an inductive load then that is a very high BEMF (back electro motive force) caused that will damage other items in the home. A engine’s ignition spark is the result of BEMF caused by the sudden disconnection of the 12v through an inductive load (COIL).

    1. Kiwi

      We have been fitted with a Smart Meter here in Spain by Iberdrola that has an automatic current overload set to 2.2kW.

      I think I recall Lester Haines talking about this a while back. My jug is 2kw, and I can have everything (including 2 electric heaters) turned on at once. Even when I am trying to live frugally, I can't imagine living with that limit.

      Have you considered buying some relatively cheap UPS units? Maybe some battery-powered lighting? A laptop and a spare battery?

      As an electrician, do you think you can come up with a better way of handling the fuses? Maybe next time you pull them out wrap some duct tape around or something else around one to provide something of a non-conductive handle you can pull them out with? Oh, and while you're there how about covering that exposed top with some insulating materials?

      I often had to replace fuses in my old house. When it was raining, due to the location of the box, I quickly decided to be quite content with torchlight/candlelight and a good book.

    2. egc

      Sounds to me like you would be wise - as you are an electrician - to install your own un-interruptible supply for lower power devices such as clocks, lighting etc.

      Its worth considering say installing a 1KW sine wave invertor - and run that from batteries ( say 24V DC with reasonable capacity - say 100AH and of course good current capability since if running at near 1Kw = 1000 w (plus inefficiency say 10% ) = 1100w/24v = 41.67 A ). Batteries of course can be charged either from the public supply - or indeed from solar panels...

      I REALLY do think that we are entering into an entirely "new" concept" of electrical supply here.

      for those of us that "think" -- I reckon we are going back very much to a separate "DIY" solution that is ENTIRELY independant of this big brother technology - that in my opinion is going to fail big time in the future. We are all "sleep walking into technology " - that few understand

      1. Kiwi
        Thumb Up

        for those of us that "think" -- I reckon we are going back very much to a separate "DIY" solution that is ENTIRELY independant of this big brother technology - that in my opinion is going to fail big time in the future. We are all "sleep walking into technology " - that few understand

        Yup. I find it scary the way so much infrastructure is having to be connected to public-facing networks. A screw up with keys being released or some flaw where security is bypassed easily.. You may not be able to blow things up by turning the power on and off but you can cause a whole lot of pain.

    3. Jerry G.

      Why not ask the power company to come out and fix it properly???

      1. Kiwi

        Why not ask the power company to come out and fix it properly???

        If I am remembering correctly, it would be linked to the bureaucracy in that particular part of the world. Same reason his entire supply is almost 10% more than my jug uses (I could not have my jug and my PC turned on at the same time there!)

  27. egc

    What I would like to know is..

    Given that a "smart meter" essentially does nothing different than a dumb meter does - that is it measures total usage - and that's what you get billed for ... WHY the rush to install these devices?

    Also - we have had three attempts now by our supplier to install a smart meter- and on every occasion I have asked the question: IN the event of a dispute over readings .. WHICH one would take legal precedent.: The one I SEE on the meter, and can read regularly like I always used to on the dumb meter....OR - is it the one "they" take remotely that I CANT see ?

    So far - the engineers from the actual installation company have NOT been able to answer this.

    So- I've refused to let them fit one.

    1. Kiwi
      Holmes

      WHY the rush to install these devices?

      When they started to roll these out in NZ, people were told that they'd save a lot of money on them because they were more accurate. Very quickly a lot of people saw their power bills increase significantly and I think some went up 2 to 3 times the monthly amount. The reason given for this was their old, worn out meters were not reading correctly and were reading well under their actual use.

      Has that helped?

  28. alferdpacker

    Smart Water Meter

    We're getting the compulsory smart water meters installed in our street just now. What I can't understand is what makes them "smart". Don't they just measure the amount of water that gets used? Why would they need to connect to my home network?

    1. AndrueC Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Smart Water Meter

      I got a new water meter a few years ago. It was an improvement because the one it replaced was under my kitchen sink and was hardly ever officially read. The new one has two parts to it with one being an outside reader so no-one has to enter my property to read it.

      The installer placed it outside my kitchen window. In the back garden. Behind a locked gate.

      Still, at least it's easier to read because I don't have to move stuff around in a cupboard to get to it.

      He installed it upside down.

      I sometimes think the world is populated almost entirely by idiots.

  29. Unicornpiss Silver badge
    Flame

    The killer poke returns!

    ..and all modernized for 2017. Since it's obviously possible to destroy hardware from software in many cases, I certainly don't rule out the possibility of causing a meter to self-immolate or possibly cause dangerous power surges.

    I would not want a meter that could interface with every gadget in my home. The complexity of existing tech is already beyond our mastery of it and ability to provide bug-free coding for it. There are already smart meters in my area, but these are passive devices that relay gas usage information and do not have control over anything.

    1. Kiwi
      Mushroom

      Re: The killer poke returns!

      Since it's obviously possible to destroy hardware from software in many cases, I certainly don't rule out the possibility of causing a meter to self-immolate or possibly cause dangerous power surges.

      It's simply not physically possible to do this. A transformer that has a 10-1 ratio will always have a 10-1 ratio, in that if you feed 240 volts in you get 24 volts out, if you feed 2,400 volts in you get 240 out etc. As your line voltage is 240 volts, you cannot get more juice out of it. You cannot through software tell a 1-1 transformer to become a 1-100 transformer. What comes into your house is either 240 or 480 if taken across phases (if you have 2 or more phases coming in, which IIRC most houses in NZ do), however at your power points you only get one phase and neutral, so you cannot possibly get more than 240 volts in no matter what can be done to a meter. You cannot cause a meter to put out a surge above what is the input voltage.

      You might be able to brick it, so it shuts down the house completely. You might be able to cause it to fluctuate on/off very rapidly, but that would only cause electronics in the house to die and very unlikely in any nasty manner. You might be able to make it stop metering, so the owner gets free power till it's replaced, but you cannot make it get one degree hotter.

      Unless there are some very significant faults with the meter, it will not cause a fire ever and cannot physically do this through software. A properly made 100a240v fuse will blow if the current gets above 100a on a 240v line, no software will change that. A thermal fuse (common in transformers) designed to blow at 120degrees will blow at 120 degrees, software cannot change that.

      You have infinitely more risk of fire from dust build up or corrosion of the connections in your old meter box than you have from a hacker causing your meter to explode. And I do use the term "infinite" in its correct meaning here.

      1. Unicornpiss Silver badge

        Re: The killer poke returns!

        No, you can't cause the voltage to soar. But you potentially could rapidly switch it off and on rapidly if the meter has this capability, to the detriment of the meter and anything downstream. There are a lot of things that "shouldn't be possible" with devices that end up getting exploited creatively.

  30. Wayland Bronze badge

    Smartmeter popping

    Electronics should be designed so that software cannot break it. If a circuit is only safe within limits then those limits should not be set in software but in hardware. A heating system can have computer control but there should be a physical thermostat that is not part of the computer that will shut it down if it reaches a very high temperature. This is easy to do. You just retain the old thermostat and set it to a high temperature. Let the computer control it at the lower temperatures.

    Saying that these sensible safety precautions are easy does not mean the designers have included them. I have worked on embedded systems where if my software does not boot then all the hydraulics valves are open and the equipment is operating. Things that should not both happen at the same time happen. My software has to boot and immediately turn off the hydraulics before anything bad happens. Bloody death trap.

    However before condemning smart meters the design should be examined to see if software can cause hardware to be dangerous.

  31. EJ

    Any time I see a Weekly World News article cited then I know it's going to be a good day.

  32. Bill_Sticker

    Explode?

    I don't know about exploding, but there have been multiple instances here in the not so frozen wastes of Canada and in the United States of these 'smart' meters bursting into flames because of dodgy installations. No hackers required. Although I don't think it would be that hard to get the shonky things to overload and go 'bang' if you understood how trigger the right sort of overload remotely. As someone pointed out further up the thread, their security is almost non-existent.

    Because of the fire issues, in Ontario they've taken many Smart Meters out, and Saskpower in Saskatchewan has stopped using them altogether. On our side of the great divide, BC Hydro in British Columbia was ordered to remove 88,000 'Smart' Meters back in January 2016. To list but three examples.

    1. Kiwi

      Re: Explode?

      I don't know about exploding, but there have been multiple instances here in the not so frozen wastes of Canada and in the United States of these 'smart' meters bursting into flames because of dodgy installations.

      I've been reading a bit more into this of late, and it seems that over there your meters are plugged into some kind of socket? Here they're hardwired and have security seals fitted as well (wire tags that supposedly get checked from time to time to show that the box has only been opened by qualified personnel). I have a heater that had a dirty contact on it's plug, and the heat generated on that bad contact melted the plug. Had a coffee maker do the same as well, melted its plug through a bad contact, so I can see the same happening with a meter. However, the issue isn't the meter but the installation. Would be the same if you tried to feed a power socket with speaker wire, the current draw would cause the wire to heat up and the insulation could catch fire (or any wood/other combustible the wire was close to).

      Although I don't think it would be that hard to get the shonky things to overload and go 'bang' if you understood how trigger the right sort of overload remotely. As someone pointed out further up the thread, their security is almost non-existent.

      It's pretty much a physical impossibility. You need a load on a device to cause it to heat up, and the meter itself is not capable of drawing that load. Electrical devices will only draw so much power and that's it. An electric motor may draw 100amps as it's starting load (if the machinery is big enough) and when running the load might drop to 1amp. Nothing you can do will make it go outside those limits. Jam the machine the motor will try to draw more, saw 2,000amps, but the fuse is a 200amp fuse so it will blow. Now, if your fuse is wrong the motor's windings might heat up enough to ignite, but that's because some twit used the wrong grade fuse (or breaker) in the circuit.

      A meter will draw very little power on it's own (otherwise you'd have householders complaining about inflated bills because of the meter's own draw!), and to draw anything extra it needs another device attached. Software cannot plug in a jug. The most they could do is turn every smart device on in the house at the same time, but then if everything is built to spec either everything will power up OK or one or more breakers will pop, and the load will reduce to 0.

      It's not impossible to start a fire with electronics, but it is pretty hard to do even with badly designed stuff. A lot has to go wrong for something to reach ignition temps. No one is going to be able to cause fires from hacking smart meters, unless they can turn a smart heater on when someone has left something on it - and that's not the meter hack causing the fire but the person leaving the heater plugged in and something combustible on it. A trivial risk to defeat.

  33. harmjschoonhoven

    Bah,

    in the 1950's we were promised electricity [from nuclear power plants] too cheap to meter ...

  34. Jerry G.

    Smart Meter Comment

    This article is a load of crap. I have an understanding about how these meters work. Some are wireless with a range of a few hundred feet. Some are connected to a telephone line. These meters have an IP number. Some manufactures have their own proprietary communications protocol that works similar to IP numbers.

    The power to the appliances and etc, pass through a circuit that measures the current. Instead of making a linear electromagnetic field to push a magnetic linear motor unit that drives a sort of simple clock assembly (mechanical meters), the current value is read by a scaling-ramp circuit that feeds a sort of electronic timer. This timer works in kW/hr (Kilowatt Hours). It is a counter. The more current passing through the greater the count rate per unit time frame. After processing and calculating the Kw/Hrs used. This data is sent back to the power company on an independent IP number that has nothing to do with anything in your home. You can shut down all the internet in your home and the power meter will still work as long as the power company independent data line is connected to that meter, or its wireless feature is working.

    The power supplies in your devices and appliances have no signal conductibility to the motherboard or processing in appliances. It is an AC supply on the input side of a switching supply that has high isolation to the inverted DC buss inside of the unit. Even a DC buss cannot be infiltrated. The DC buss is regulated and filtered against noise to keep the device or appliance running properly and stable.

    As for destroying a power meter, there is not much in these devices that can be dangerous by software access. If someone malicious was to get in to the meter somehow which I doubt very much unless they worked for the power company, or they had the proper setup and huge amount of time, they can only turn off the meter, change the Kw/Hr setting, or reset the readings.

    If someone crazy was to break in to a home and put a crowbar across the main power buss before any fuses, and if the power company protection did not trip, the most the guy would have is a huge spark and possibly be injured very badly, or even killed!

    As for the two phase voltage coming in to the home, this is directly hard wired from outside to the buss of the breaker panel via the current sensor inside of the meter. This is all hard wired and is not able to have any power diverted. This is high current power and it would take a large automation control high current relay switch-box to start diverting power in the home. I do not know any establishment that would have this type of switch-box unless they are part of a sub station network, or a corporation. And, these boxes would not be allowed to have internet access. These would be on an isolated network only.

    --

    I wish before these articles are posted proper research is done. Someone should contact power companies and verify this type of thing to have something official. I am not official for this. I studied electrical engineering and have some knowledge in power systems and power supply design.

    There are people who make up all kinds of fright news to attract attention, publish books, and etc., just to bring a lot of attention. Then they have a book or some story, or some software to sell that will supposedly fix things.

  35. JeffUK

    I don't understand the statement "Smart meters can communicate with networked devices inside homes, such as air conditioners, fridges, and the like." why would the meter be connected to your LAN? I thought they used GSM to communicate back to base.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      There are many different definitions of "smart meter"

      One of the definitions of smart meter is that the meter can communicate with its downstream loads, in particular with high-demand but optional/deferrable loads.

      The idea is that when grid-level demand comes close to reaching the available grid-level supply, ie Bad Things may be about to happen on the grid, this flavour of smart meter is expected to notify "smart appliances" on its downstream side (on the premises being metered) that they must switch off for a while.

      Whether it's workable or not, whether different approaches might be better/cheaper, doesn't seem to enter into the discussion for some reason.

      Any clearer?

      1. JeffUK

        Re: There are many different definitions of "smart meter"

        Ok, I see why you would want to, than (I seem to remember this being trialled with Aircon in big hotels...) how would it work? would it need to be connected via wifi, or or would it use some sort of Ethernet-over-power malarkey?

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Trivial to do

    Cough EMI from badly configured smart meter /cough

    If you jam enough of them it b*ggers up load shedding, and its trivial enough to hack even one in 100 to jam everything for miles around by spamming every available band by making a few "special" electric keys and swapping them out when people go to top up their electricity, these would have a trigger date and time pre-coded which causes a sudden loss of credit (ideally late evening when all the shops are closed) and additionally transmits jamming signal on the load shedding band/etc.

  37. thejoff

    I'm looking for somebody to test some filters to isolate the meter from any iot devices connected inside my house. I'm not looking to have any iot devices, but I guess soon it won't be possible to have non-iot devices and they won't be giving the consumer details about how it works.

    I'd like to install a filter that tells them to fuck off and I'd like to get an emf meter to be able to measure my exposure.

    And I'd also like to build a tesla coil to destroy their electronics and a device that looks like a bicycle brake pad or a cable greaser that permits me to steal electricity between the time I destroy their meter and the time that they put in another and then again after I break the next one.

    Fuck those arseholes.

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