Techno digest – smart utility meters, hackers, cyber-attacks, missives and missiles amiss

Smart meters will transmit private data to energy companies, enabling supplies to be remotely disconnected. Smart meters will be used to increase what you pay to use energy at peak times, not to reduce overall energy consumption. Radiation hazards for people remain unclear. Smart meters are insecure and can be hacked by third parties. A single line of malicious code can cut power to a property or cause overloads, exploding meters and fires.

Smart meter fitment is often not possible if there’s patchy 4G Vodaphone, or no mobile/Wi-Fi coverage. This could be a blessing in disguise.

Purporting to save 2% of our energy costs, smart meters for water, gas and electricity utilities are being promoted for UK properties, although Germany has rejected proposed installations. Smart meters don’t always report properly. Dimmer switches and LED bulbs confuse them. They rely on proprietary software. Three-phase static meters can exaggerate consumption by up to 600%.  A small energy monitor is a much cheaper, less intrusive way to cut consumption.

British electricity meters belong to the retailer. There’s no incentive to help you use less of their product. Technologies are incompatible. Smart meters will be used to increase what you pay to use energy at peak times, not to reduce overall energy consumption. A one year study by Toronto Hydro showed that 84% of people’s bills went up after smart meters had been installed – often by more than 50%. The £12billion roll-out cost for installation in the UK will push up consumer bills which, thanks to the Big 6, have already taken on average a 12% hike this year. Long-term it’s estimated that smart meters will cost each consumer £400. Companies won’t have to employ so many call centre staff dealing with bill enquiries, meter readers will lose their jobs. Automation continues its relentless march. Will these ‘savings’ be passed on to consumers?

If you spread payments and pay by direct debit, you can’t be billed for exact usage. Upgrades malfunction. You can’t use the smart meter to measure the energy you create through solar panels. Switch supplier and your meter may lose its smartness, with consumers trapped in poor deals, unable to switch utility providers. The real purpose of smart meters is to transmit private data to energy companies and allow them to remotely disconnect supplies and perform ‘Active Demand Management’ – whereby appliances and supply are controlled. In a dream infrastructure for advertisers, marketeers and criminals stealing personal details, corporations and agencies will harvest data, analyse our habits, determine the age of appliances, profile our behaviour and further monetise our private lives.

Radiation hazards for humans, especially young children, babies and foetuses, remain unclear. There are major health concerns about electromagnetic interference – pulsed microwaves and damage caused to the natural ecology. There will be grid security threats from pulse attacks.

Smart meters are insecure and will be hacked by third parties to callously attack customers. Utility bills could be changed. In the US, for example, 10% of transmitted electricity already disappears because of commercial losses; it’s called theft. Electricity will be stolen just as easily after smart meter installation. Puerto Rico hackers have re-programmed smart meters for a fee to cut up to 75%t of the user’s electricity cost. Burglars will be able to detect vacant properties and expensive equipment in advance. A single line of malicious code can cut power to a property, turn off lights and alarms, even cause overloads leading to exploding meters and fires. This is not mindless scaremongering – hacker collectives, CCHQ even, have undertaken tests to highlight and report these dangers. Cyber security implications for NASA, the Pentagon, banks and air traffic control should not be underestimated. WikiLeaks has released a wad of documents it calls “Vault 7”, which contains details of hacking tools used by the CIA. Political activists’ phones are hacked to maintain details on a ‘domestic extremism’ database.

Think Weeping Angel, Tesco Bank and TalkTalk’s 157,000 directly affected customers; Wonga’s woes, Debenhams Flowers and the phishing attack on Google Docs in the spring of 2017. The nuclear programme in Iran was sabotaged by custom malware. The ‘Stuxnet’ malware took months to develop and specifically targeted machinery used to process uranium.

The latest and biggest hack came in May 2017, when in Britain the NHS became a high-profile victim of a global ransomware attack as malware stolen from the US National Security Agency affected communications in over 150 countries. The security breach disrupted GP surgeries, dental practices and other primary care centres. Telefónica, FedEx and Deutsche Bahn were also hit. The malware is dubbed WannaCry. It was spread by the Shadow Brokers hacking group, but it didn’t take long for reports to circulate pinning the blame on North Korea and Wikileaks.

The massive distributed denial of service attack that closed half the Internet on October 21st 2016 was down partly to botnets; hackers used a known default password, a log-in common to all kettles. I’ll rewrite that: yes, kettles, smart kettles.

It gets worse. In the Netherlands pavement LEDs mean you don’t have to avert from perusing your phone to check traffic lights when crossing the road. Good luck with that.

In the distant past, when I was a teenager, when there were lollipop men and women, a hack was a journalist, not someone who illegally accessed mobile phones. There were no remote controls; I had to suffer the inconvenience of rising to walk across the room to change the TV channel.

Returning to the meters .. Water utilities are lagging behind when it come to smart meter installation, mainly because of cost implications. With a third of Scottish consumers living in fuel poverty conditions, dwellers in bedsit land, for example, will remain dependent on their landlords overcharging through the existing meters in their rooms. Though protected by caps, customers are saddled with a meter whereby they pay upfront, because they fell behind with utility bill payments. Rest assured, those already disadvantaged, the poor and vulnerable, will suffer the most.

Businesses, mountaineers, farmers, fishermen .. Rural isolation of course means remote communities – the 5% who reside in areas that are not covered for mobile, Broadband and fibre optic services, a problem exacerbated by the BT/Open Reach monopoly on supply lines/exchanges/access and a toothless watchdog, Ofcom. Some customers still suffer dial-up, a blatant denial of ‘superfast’ Broadband (at present classed at 30Mbps+), considered these days to be a vital utility for people who most require such a lifeline.

Folk might not even need a landline if they were not in a signal reception blackspot. No mast signal? Can’t get Vodaphone 4G? Then often no smart meter installation is possible, a blessing in disguise, by all accounts.

The Tory party 2017 manifesto has made the introduction of smart meters an optional choice for consumers.

‘We do not consent to the roll-out of smart meters in the UK’ – 38 Degrees petition

The UK government has contracted a private company, Capita, to provide the behind-the-scenes infrastructure for part of the smart meter roll-out programme. Capita featured in a National Audit Office report recently. The report said that the Department of Work and Pensions has failed to achieve value for money from the health and disability assessments it had contracted out to Capita, and two other contractors, Atos and Maximus. Giving evidence to MPs, the three companies were forced to admit regret at the poor quality of their work.

Capita is also ‘dealing’ with Personal Independence Payments, which are to replace Disability Living Allowances.

The good news is … ‘The Scottish Government revealed they will not be using private firms to assessing disabled people for benefits under the new Scottish Social Security agency. Minister for social security Jeane Freeman confirmed private contractors such as Atos, Concentrix and Maximus would not be involved in administrating the 11 benefits devolved to the Scottish Parliament. She told MSPs that profit-making should not form a part of decisions about people’s medical capability or whether they qualify for help and that Scotland’s system would be more humane and efficient.’ Andrew Learmonth, writing in the National newspaper on April 28th.

And the bad news is …  According to the Ferret’s investigative journalism platform, ‘the Scottish government awarded a £290,000 contract to PA Consulting to work on the development of a new trial Scottish social security system. PA Consulting is a subsidiary of a US private equity company, Carlyle Group. The London-based company has been accused of a lack of transparency by the UK’s Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office, both of which monitor how taxpayers’ money is spent.’

Between 2011 and 2016 NHS Shared Business Services, an internal postal company partly owned by the Department of Health and private French contractor Sopra Steriato, stored half a million letters in a warehouse instead of sending this crucial information between GPs and hospitals, as they were contracted and paid to do. Missives amiss! Privatisation can be bad for your health. It is only a matter of time before some nation’s medical records are released online for all to view.

NHS patient records were decidedly unavailable after WannaCry in May. Brad Smith, Microsoft president, used an unfortunate analogy when he said that the cyber-attack was ‘ like the US military having a Tomahawk missile stolen’.

Does getting a missile merely mis-delivered beggar belief?  A U.S.-bound, laser-guided, air-to-surface Hellfire dummy missile was delivered to Cuba in 2014. Lockheed Martin was authorised to export it to Florida after a NATO training exercise in Spain. Couriers and freight forwarders shipped the 45Kg weapon from Europe to Cuba by mistake. The words ‘lax’ and ‘lost’ come to mind. I do wish I was making this up. “Can we have our dummy back, please?” Fidel Castro died laughing.

For two years the U.S. worked with Lockheed to get Cuba to return the missile. Worth $65000 in monetary terms, Cuba gave the Hellfire back – in pieces, I hope – in February 2016.

Cuban crisis! A missile amiss!

A newly declassified Pentagon audit shows the US Army failed to keep track of more than $1 billion worth of weapons and military equipment sent to Iraq and Kuwait, including tens of thousands of assault rifles and hundreds of armoured vehicles.

Finally I offer two reports on

an advanced digital society from My Blogs, and

its vulnerability. Russian-based hacking collectives have taken down Estonia, the most wired country in Europe.





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