Smart Meter Security Questioned

The TV show “America Now” actually raised a few questions about smart meters.

It seems innocent enough. It makes no noise.

Your utility meter just churns away at the side of your home, but the information it’s cranking out has computer science graduate students at the University of South Carolina talking.

“They’re not widely deployed, so we wanted to study what type of utility meters are deployed now,” said Wenyuan Xu with the USC Department of Computer Science. “Are they secure?”

Most are AMR or Automatic Meter Reading.

SCE&G uses more than 570,000. Their website claims it’s simple. Wirelessly, they send usage data to a truck riding through neighborhoods, using what they claim are secure radio frequencies.

How much data?

“They actually send out a consumption reading once every 30 seconds,” said Xu. “So that’s kind of a lot of data. If someone is peeking on you once every 30 seconds, I wouldn’t feel comfortable about that.”

Wanting to know more, students went to Google. They didn’t get far.

“How do they communicate? Is there any standard?” asked Xu. “It turns out they all use proprietary communications, protocol.”

Meaning the details are hidden. The students didn’t stop, eventually getting a meter and creating their own receiver.

“Let’s just go out, use our device and capture some packets and try to figure out what they mean,” said Xu.

That’s exactly what they did, hiding in bushes outside homes.

“One of my student’s neighbors was not happy about that,” said Xu. “[She] came and said, ‘What are you guys doing? I have kids that live here.'”

She should be concerned. In a short time, students captured “secure” information and moved on to another part of town.

“So we actually did set up an eavesdropper, or a sniffer, tried to find out how many meters we can receive,” said Xu. “So at one single spot we were able to receive almost 500 meter readings.”

They gathered information from several homes over a week, randomly picked one house, and easily learned details of the owners’ lifestyle.

“We found out that the owner has a job, because he left home at 9:00 a.m. every day, came back home at 6:30 p.m. and weekday consumption pattern is totally different from weekend consumption pattern,” said Xu.

Different enough to give any cunning thief a good idea of when to break in. They also could manipulate the numbers, inflating a neighbor’s bill.

“Maybe you can even tell the utility company, ‘Oh you owe me money, actually I supplied utility electricity to the power grid,'” said Xu.

Using a louder signal, they drowned out the signal coming from the meter.

“Our handheld meter was fooled by our system,” said Xu. “That was a little bit surprising to us.”

It’s easy if you’ve got a little bit of knowledge in computer science. Easy, because we discovered the utility companies aren’t protecting your personal information.

“The meters should have been designed that all the transmissions should have been encrypted,” said Xu. “No personal information should be sent out in plain text.”

Xu says it’s scary, but at the same time notes that any person who designs wireless systems should remember to encrypt everything.

USC shared what they found with the utilities.

“We talked with utility companies,” said Xu. “They’re aware of the issue. We hope they can fix the problems soon.”

A statement received from one company read:

“We realize that information security is top of mind with a lot of folks here in South Carolina these days. I can assure you there is no risk whatsoever of the personal information of our customers – names, addresses, social security numbers, etc. – being compromised through our use of automated meter reading technology.”

When we raised questions about gaining access and being able to tell that no one was home, they had this to say:

“It might also suggest that someone simply turned off the TV and the computer and is quietly nestled up reading a book or a magazine.”

Students know it could be costly for utility companies to fix systems already installed either with new meters or by changing the system’s software or firmware, they but worry without encryption that information could be compromised.

In the US alone, 1,000 private and public utility companies have or are implementing AMR systems. They say it improves the quality of work, making them more efficient.

Going Negative

“Well, the endgame is a total collapse, but from a higher diving board. The Fed will continue to print and if the stock market goes down 10%, they will print even more. And they don’t know anything else to do. And quite frankly, they have boxed themselves into a corner where they are now kind of desperate.”

– Mark Faber, Bloomberg TV

We hit new highs on the stock market yesterday with the announcement that Ben Bernancke will continue pumping money, i.e. printing more dollars for an unlimited time. As an American, you can’t help but worry that this is not a good thing. Obviously investment expert Mark Faber worries, too.

Will Bernancke’s successor be any better?

Doesn’t look like it if it is Janet Yellin and she is favored right now. Faber has this scary info to share:

“She will make Mr. Bernanke look like a hawk. She, in 2010, said if could vote for negative interest rates, in other words, you would have a deposit with the bank of $100,000 at the beginning of the year and at the end, you would only get $95,000 back, that she would be voting for that. And that basically her view will be to keep interest rates in real terms, in other words, inflation-adjusted.

The idea of negative interest rates is outrageous, but yes, it has been talked about for awhile, particularly by Ms. Yellin.

David Kotok at explains:

Negative interest rates are the ultimate in market distortions. They employ only a stick and no carrot. Their use tends to progress from disincentive through penalty to punishment.

There is only a limited history of the use of negative interest rates. Many decades ago, Switzerland discouraged incoming Swiss-franc deposits by imposing a negative interest rate on balances placed with Swiss banks. In other words, a person deposited money in the bank, and the bank charged the depositor for the privilege of keeping it there.

During the financial crisis in the US, the Bank of New York imposed a negative interest rate – a penalty – on deposits over $50 million. The bank essentially told customers to remove their money.

The money GPS adds:

Scary stuff, but not unthinkable in the Obama era.

Government Gone Wild

Honestly, the Founders would not recognize this nation. They would think we live in tyranny. How much more could the government intrude in our lives? From these stories over the weekend, it looks like they’re just getting started. Nothing is too small to escape their regulation obsession.

For instance, in Pittsburgh, some residents can be – and are – fined for parking in their own driveway:

Then, there is New York, where the government wants to regulate dinner parties!
From CBS 2

As you sit down to dinner, this story illustrates eating out like you have never experienced before. We are talking about super-secret, illegal dining experiences hosted in homes.

CBS 2 investigative reporter Tamara Leitner went undercover to see firsthand how this underground world works.

It may look like a dinner party, but it’s really an underground supper club.

The diners are a mix of New Yorkers and tourists. CBS 2’s undercover cameras captured one experience — eight people who didn’t know each other eating a meal in a stranger’s home.

That hostess, Naama Shafi, writes about food but is not a chef. Leitner found her through a website, which connects amateur foodies and professional chefs in 20 different countries with people who want unique dining experiences.

Clandestine dinner parties like the one Leitner attended have become more common in New York City. And insiders told Leitner they are completely unregulated.

But some critics have concerns about these unregulated dinner parties.

“It definitely falls into a gray area,” said Leon Lubarsky, owner of Letter Grade Consulting.

Lubarsky’s staff of retired New York City health inspectors advises restaurants on health regulations.

When asked if the underground restaurants should be regulated, Lubarsky told Leitner, “Yes, they should be regulated by the same system that regulates every restaurant in New York City.”

If this doesn’t cement the idea that we’re becoming a third world country, I don’t know what would. They do this in Cuba because of government control there. Now it’s happening in Manhattan.

Want to bet this would not apply to any Democrats who want to throw a fund raising dinner party for a candidate in New York? Wouldn’t that be “unregulated?” Guess it’s OK then.

Then we have Chicago where the government there wants an even greater monitoring of energy than they have now. (Pro smart meter people: Do you see where these meters are taking us?)

From the Blaze:

Building managers in Chicago are complaining they will be put through “public shaming” after the city council voted to require them to publicly disclose their energy use in the city’s bid to cut it by 30 percent by 2020, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Beginning next year, Chicago buildings will submit annual reports regarding their energy efficiency and could be compared to their peers.

Only buildings larger than 50,000 square feet will be required to report data to a program the Tribune compared to TurboTax run through the EPA, called Energy Star Portfolio Manager.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel doesn’t see a problem with this.

“Do you check the mileage before you purchase a car? Do you check the energy-efficiency of a utility before you purchase it? Do you do comparative? What is wrong with providing people information?” Emanuel said, according to the Tribune.

Sure, there’s absolutely no problem with a dictatorial government forcing their beliefs on citizens and private entities and publicly shaming them, which could cause a loss in revenue and customers all while publishing private data, which is none of Government’s business, and probably for the Cult Of Gore.

You’d think they had more important things to deal with in Chicago, like murders, crime and state bankruptcy, than looking into energy usage, wouldn’t you?

It goes to show you how very much the government wants absolute control of energy use for everyday Americans. Control that and you control behavior, commerce, business and transportation.

Corker Slams Obama

It’s about time, Bob.

Surprising and he’s not even up for reelection yet.

Gateway Pundit reports:

In a recent interview with CNN’s Dana Bash, Senator Bob Corker is disappointed with the Obama Administration as a “diminished figure on Capitol Hill” and Obama is seen as “uncomfortable being Commander-in-Chief.” The Liberal media is beside itself and ready to blame the negative statements as limited to the GOP.

But not so fast. Someone may need to remind the media that MSNBC’s Liberal Richard Wolffe also notes Obama’s “embarrassing” and “muddled” handling of Syria. Or that Liberal Democrat Dennis Kucinich feels Obama is close to impeachment. Or Liberal progressive Cornel West feels Obama is defined by “pretty words that hide ugly deeds.”

Here’s the recent Bob Corker interview (Hat Tip to Mediaite and ORYR):

Whose Property Is It Anyway?

I’ve never understood how government gets by with taxing you several times for the same thing. After all, once tried in a court of law you can’t be tried again for the same crime. Why is it legal to pile on taxes even after something is purchased?

If you are industrious and frugal enough to own your own home, you never really own it. Don’t pay your property taxes and the government will jump in and take your home. Doubt it? There was a story just yesterday on Drudge about the feds gobbling up houses delinquent on property tax for as little as $44.

It’s a burden particularly on the elderly. They struggle to finally pay the last payment on a home but it doesn’t stop there. They still have property taxes. The only reason the government gets away with it is because so few people own their homes anymore so the cost is hidden. So property taxes are every politician’s favorite revenue source. In our last assessment here in Memphis many people were happy that their taxes didn’t go up. Hold your enthusiasm: it’s just a temporary stopping place. They’ll figure out a way to raise it the next time. If the economy’s bad, they need the money and hike it. If the economy’s good, they want more money and hike it. Either way we lose.

Mr. Midtown Republican observed, after paying about an extra $1,000 on our property tax this year (no improvements made, no upgrade in the neighborhood to justify this) that when we bought the house the cost of taxes equaled two house payments. Today it is six. How can that be fair?

Memphis has the highest property taxes in the state of Tennessee, but it’s not just a problem here. In Pennsylvania, one man had a tactic he used to express his disgust. The Lehighvalleylive reports:

Fed up with having to pay $7,143 in school taxes for a district his children don’t attend, a Forks Township man paid that portion of his tax bill last week in single dollar bills.

Robert Fernandes, a father of three, moved to Forks Township a year ago from Warren County, seeking lower property taxes for a larger home that could also house his elderly parents. Fernandes commutes to work as an IT manager for a company in Bedminster Township, N.J., while his wife home-schools the children, ages 7, 4 and 1.

Fernandes says he got a great deal on a short sale when he bought his home, but his annual property taxes total nearly $10,000. Reached by phone Tuesday, Fernandes said he doesn’t want to pay $7,143 in school taxes.

“We don’t even use the public system, yet I am being forced to pay all this money into a public school system,” he said. “I don’t think that’s really either fair or just or even ethical.

“It would be the equivalent if McDonald’s were to force vegetarians to pay for their cheeseburgers.”

Here’s the video: