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Vulnerabilities in Smart Meters and the C12.12 Protocol

INDUSTRY: Critical Infrastructure

SERVICE: Special Projects


Engagement Background

We began preliminary examination of a newer technology known as a Smart Meter.  Despite the growing attention to insecurities, there have been multiple vulnerabilities released in 2011 and the trend is expected to continue through 2012.  Our Research & Innovation team set up two Smart Meters in their laboratory and began testing the hardware for vulnerabilities.  The testing is necessary because this newer technology is responsible for monitoring the power consumed by a home or business and communicating that information to the respective electric company.


Why it’s Important

A hacker or malicious user is able to manipulate their way into the Smart Meter and defraud the company’s billing department.  The power grid can potentially be affected as well because Smart Meters communicate through a cellular connection back to the power company. Since it was concluded that certain data could be altered such as the device’s ID and other data tables, a hacker can potentially use their access to rack up a large electrical bill and charge it to an innocent person’s account.  Even easier, it can be possible through our testing to manipulate the power usage of the vulnerable Smart Meter.  How nice would it be to have an electrical bill of “$0” each month?  With the total number of installed Smart Meters expected to reach 52 million by the end of the 2012 calendar year, the need for strict security protocols in Smart Meter technology is paramount.


What the Consultants Had to Say

“Smart Meters are a newer addition to the same electric meter”.  The electric meter is responsible for reporting power consumption from a home or business and relay that information to the respective electric company.  The significance of this newer dilemma is the fact that the devices have direct access to the electric company and may lead to malicious activity.  “We were asked to examine 2 widely deployed devices and look for potential vulnerabilities as well as ways in which the devices are able to communicate”.  To achieve this, we used a serial debugger to view the data from the application to the Smart Meter.  “This allowed us to see what it was doing and how it was communicating”.   Finally, we used an optical cable to “connect to the Smart Meter and potentially gain control of it”.  SecureState has created custom tools to attack Smart Meters and the vulnerabilities we found.  These will be released as a new open source community project in the very near future.