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Is Your Smart Meter Spying On You?


Burglars, Hackers and the Government All Want to See Your Smart Meter Data

NBC News reports:

Researchers examining the privacy implications of smart-meter technology found that one German provider’s devices contained vulnerabilities that allowed them to snoop on unencrypted data to determine whether or not the homeowners were home.

After signing up with the German smart-meter firm Discovergy, the researchers detected that the company’s devices transmitted unencrypted data from the home devices back to the company’s servers over an insecure link. The researchers, Dario Carluccio and Stephan Brinkhaus, intercepted the supposedly confidential and sensitive information, and, based on the fingerprint of power usage, were able to tell not only whether or not the homeowners were home, away or even sleeping, but also what movie they were watching on TV.

Network World points out:

At the last Chaos Communication Congress in Germany, researchers presented “Smart Hacking For Privacy” and demonstrated that detailed smart meter data can show what TV shows you watch, scan for copyright-protected DVD movies you watch, and other privacy intrusive details.

Network World also notes:

Smart meters provide highly detailed energy-use data. The info can be used by police to find and to bust indoor pot farms, by insurance companies to determine health care premiums, and by criminals to determine if you own high-dollar appliances and when is the best time to steal them. And that’s only the tip of the potential privacy invasion iceberg.


In central Ohio, police file at least 60 subpoenas each month for energy-use records of people suspected in indoor marijuana growing operations, reported the Columbus Dispatch. Most of the houses with indoor pot growing operations are reportedly in quiet neighborhoods without much traffic. DEA agent Anthony Marotta said the subpoena is only one tool used to catch “grow house” operators. Police get a tip about suspicious activity, but if undercover officers don’t discover anything illegal during a stake out, then utility consumption records can be sought. “How else can I get an indicator to get probable cause if I can’t see anything?” Marotta said to reporter Dean Narciso.


The U.S. Department of Energy warned [PDF] that smart grid technology can provide a highly detailed household profile of energy consumption and said policies are needed to restrict utilities from sharing consumer usage data with third parties. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) outlined Potential Privacy Impacts that Arise from the Collection and Use of Smart Grid Data [PDF].

From reading it, a person might wonder if smart meters will be real-time surveillance spies. It suggests that insurance companies might use the smart meter data to determine health care premiums, such as if there is high usage at night which would indicate sleep behavior problems. Besides looking to bust pot farmers, law enforcement might use the data as “real-time surveillance to determine if residents are present and current activities inside the home.” The press might wish to see the smart meter data of celebrities. Criminals may want to see the data to determine the best time for a burglary and what high dollar appliances you might have to steal. Marketers might want the data for profiling and targeting advertisements. Creditors might want the data to determine if behavior indicates creditworthiness.

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