How to Hack a Smart Meter – update

Danish utility SEAS-NVE is considering a pilot project to monitor smart meter security.
Published: Mon 22 Jul 2019

Denmark’s largest cooperative utility SEAS-NVE is considering testing a pilot project for surveillance of its smart meter network.

The utility, whose 400,000 customers all have smart meters, embarked on a security programme to meter supplier Networked Energy Services (NES) NES 5,2 smart metering platform including improved communications security between the different layers of the system and a new key management system providing automatic key updates at regular intervals. Other measures included improved intrusion detection based on the smart meter characteristics to detect abnormal behaviours, and improved ‘compartmentalisation’ to ensure that a breach into a meter is restricted to that meter alone.

SEAS-NVE is so far not aware of any attempts to hack the system, but at the moment, the company is in the dark as to whether it simply hasn’t been attacked, or whether any attempts were thwarted by the security system.

“The new software will give us more insight on what is going on with the meter network. The system will look into communications and put some intelligence in that. For example, if somebody is trying to tamper with the meter, either hacking physically through the optical portal or through the power line communication (PLC) network,” said Bo Danielson, head of metering and installation at SEAS-NVE.

The project could start within a few months and will last for six to seven months, he said.  The PLC network is much slower than the internet, so remote security firmware updates can take several weeks to reach every meter and need to be very carefully planned. NES issues a firmware upgrade a few times a year, although not every upgrade is used, he said.

Data from the smart meters will be used for a number of new initiatives. One is already underway in the form of flexible billing. As a DSO, SEAS-NVE subsidiary Cerius provides retailers with hourly data on consumer consumption giving them more opportunities to offer different products. Further, it combines weather and consumption data to make a prognosis of total consumption in the grid in order to determine appropriate tariff levels. “It’s a fine balance,” Danielson says. It is important to use models and algorithms to calculate how much to charge, especially as weather patterns become increasingly extreme, as the utility is penalised if it overestimates.

The next major opportunity to use the smart meter data will be new flexibility markets, which are still at a conceptual stage. “The idea is we can use the grid more intelligently by having a deeper insight into consumption patterns. The market may have a new role as an aggregator, where it acts as a mediator between the grid company and the customer, and we could be a buyer of flexibility from third parties. But it’s not quite certain yet. Is this the next big thing, or is this something that’s not going to work?”