New smart energy meters that the Government wants to be installed in millions of homes will leave householders vulnerable to cyber attacks, ministers have been warned.
The intelligence agency GCHQ is said to have raised concerns over the security of the meters, which could enable hackers to steal personal details and defraud consumers by tampering with their bills, it is alleged.
The Government wants every home in the country to have a smart meter, but only 8 million out of 27 million households have so far signed up to the £11 billion scheme.
They are designed to help consumers keep on top of their energy use and send meter readings electronically to suppliers, removing the need for visits to people’s houses to read their meters.
However, the rollout of a second generation of smart meters, known as SMETS 2, has been delayed because of worries about security.
The new meters will be common to all electricity and gas suppliers, meaning customers will no longer have to change their smart meter if they change supplier, as they currently have to do.
Cyber security experts say that making the meters universal will make them more attractive to hackers because the potential returns are so much greater if they can hack every meter using the same software.
In some foreign countries hackers have already attacked smart meter networks to defraud customers.
The cyber criminals are able to artificially inflate meter readings, making bills higher.
They then try to intercept payments, and if they simply skim off the difference between the real reading and the false reading, energy companies will think the bill has been paid normally.
Another potential problem is the meters being used as a “Trojan horse” to access other computers and gadgets around the home if the meters are able to “talk” to the other devices.
That would potentially give hackers the ability to steal personal information that could be sold on to other criminals.
There are also fears that countries such as North Korea might carry out a state-sponsored cyber attack to create a power surge that would damage the National Grid.
Nick Hunn, a wireless technology expert from London-based WiFore, told The Mail on Sunday: “This smart meter technology has created a Trojan horse. My understanding is that GCHQ was not best pleased when it realised how insecure these devices could be and is still not happy.
“The big problem is that the smart meter project is being blindly driven forward by career civil servants who do not have a clue about cyber security and who do not care as the taxpayer is footing the bill.”
Robert Cheesewright, of Smart Energy GB, the Government-funded agency promoting the smart meter roll-out, said: “Smart meters are one of the safest and most secure pieces of technology in your home.
“Only energy data is stored on a meter and this is encrypted. Your name, address, bank account or other financial details are not stored on the meter.”
Smart meters were developed by the Government with the help of GCHQ. Dr Ian Levy, of GCHQ, says in an article about smart metering on the National Cyber Security Centre website: “Of course, no system is completely secure, and nothing is invulnerable.
“However, we’re confident that the Smart Metering System strikes the best balance between security and business needs, whilst meeting broader policy and national security objectives. Read Article HERE