That sounds unlikely, but it could happen, according to a researcher. At the 33rd Chaos Communications Congress last month in Hamburg, Germany, researcher Netanel Rubin said that such an outcome is possible, according to PC Authority.
Indeed, Rubin said that poor encryption and protocols make it easy for a cracker (a malevolent hacker; hacker actually is a neutral term) to take over the device and command it to overheat and explode.
The story says that experts in the audience accused Rubin of scaremongering. However, it points to links that suggests that smart meters indeed did explode in Sacramento in 2015. The cause was a power surge that resulted from a truck ramming a utility pole. Though cracking was not involved, the story suggests that smart meters have the potential of exploding.
The use of smart meters brings other threats. Though less dramatic, the linking of homes, apartments, businesses and other facilities via smart meters creates the possibility of theft of data. Writing at Industry Today, Ronald Hermans, the Product Manager for Connexo Insights & Alliances at Honeywell, laid out the challenge:
Some of the threats to meters include the potential to reverse engineer communications that occur between the meter and the utility, modifying the meter software or communication so that it reports incorrect energy usage, or the threat of having a meter remotely disconnected by someone other than the utility. From a security point of view, any of the above threats are equal in severity. There is no more or less, a company is either secure or not. They should be prepared to take measures – at any level and against any threat.
If anything, the story underestimates the risk. One of the gravest threats to the Internet emerged during the second half of 2016. Crackers began creating botnets (legions of computing devices commandeered by malware) from Internet of Things- (IoT) connected consumer gear. These botnets are used in distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks in which an organization’s servers are bombarded with so much traffic that they buckle and can’t be used. Poorly secured smart meters could be used for such purposes.
EE Times Europe offers a deep dive on smart meter cryptography. The bottom line is that the dangers of smart meters are real. Utilities and the ecosystem that creates these devices must take steps. And energy managers must be aware of those dangers.