Flaws in "smart meters" meant to help make homes more energy-efficient also expose them to hackers who could potentially turn strangers' electricity on and off. The attacks can even happen remotely from a laptop, according to computer-security researchers.
Joshua Wright, a senior security analyst with InGuardians Inc., said the meters can be hacked without a utility company knowing.
Power companies are pushing the new meters, which measure in real time and can alert people when their activity is spiking. More than 8 million are already in place in the United States alone and nearly 60 million will be used by 2020. However, the interactivity that makes them appealing and cuts down on waste also makes them vulnerable to attacks.
Wright said his firm found "egregious" errors, including weak communications between the meters and utilities' computers. Hackers could break in remotely to shut down someone's power, raise or lower bills or even steal data from the utility company. Wright said similar problems existed on wireless Internet networking equipment in the early days of that technology