The so-called “smart” meters that track electricity usage on homes across Ontario are vulnerable to hacking and privacy breaches, an Ontario New Democrat is warning.
Toronto Danforth MPP Peter Tabuns plans to table a private members bill to close the gaps he says smart meters could present to homeowners’ security. Around the world, people have been able to break into the electronic monitors of power usage to lower their own bills, steal power or potentially even disrupt the whole power grid.
Though there’s been no such incident reported in Ontario, Tabuns says the government needs to prove its protection of Ontarians’ privacy and the security of the grid.
“We need to have standards, we need to make sure they’re in place, and we need to protect people privacy and their security,” Tabuns said at a press conference Tuesday.
Terrorism is the most extreme example of how the vulnerability in smart meters could be exploited — if someone could use one to access the whole grid, theoretically they could disrupt an area’s power supply. But Tabuns is more concerned about data mining or someone using the information to rob a home. Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk first raised the issue in a report last year.
“Smart meters enable the collection of massive amounts of personal electricity-use data, allowing ratepayers and distribution companies — as well as anyone else with access to the data — to see exactly what makes up a ratepayer’s electricity use,” the report stated. “The smart-meter data could reveal when people are out, daily routines and changes in those routines. As a result, electricity-use patterns could be mined, for example, for marketing and advertising purposes.”
As many as 800 people currently have access to smart meter data collected by local distribution companies that sell power to customers as well as third-party contractors they may employ, she warned.
There are online tutorials instructing people how to “hack” their own smart meter to lower their power, but that could also be used for more nefarious purposes. Tabuns said there are international examples: in Puerto Rico in 2010, hacked smart meters cost electricity companies $400 million in lost revenue. It might sound like Robin Hood, but Tabuns said we all end up paying in the long run. A BBC report found smart meters in Spain could both be hacked to cut power bills, but also to potentially disrupt the whole grid.