Intelligence agency GCHQ has reportedly intervened in Britain’s rollout of gas and electricity smart meters to ensure greater security against hacking.
In a nationwide project costing £11bn, every home in England, Wales and Scotland is expected to have a smart meter by 2020. The agency got involved after intelligence officials saw the plans and realised that power companies were proposing to use a single decryption key for communications between all smart meters and providers.
According to the Financial Times, the communication channel between each meter and the utilities operating them was designed to be encrypted. But the encryption key — the code used to unscramble the data each meter sends and receives — was the same for all of them.
If hackers cracked the key, they could potentially gain access to the network and shut off the power to people’s homes.
In a separate interview cited by the FT, Dr. Ian Levy, technical director of GCHQ’s communications electronic security group, highlighted the security challenges surrounding the installation of millions of smart meters.
“The issue is will they let someone disconnect all the power to your house? Or can someone turn off the right number of meters in the right way to cause a collapse in the grid’s systems?” he told a cyber crime industry journal published by PR group Freud Communications.
“I’m not talking about small outages here, because frankly you could take out the supply cabinets of 100 houses with just a hammer.”
GCHQ is working with the Department of Energy and Climate Change to ensure the new metering system is as secure as possible and will remain secure overall even if parts of it are compromised by a cyber attack.