Verizon to guard smart meters from hackers

HOUSTON — In a sign of the growing threat that hackers pose to smart meters and other Internet-connected devices, Verizon Enterprise Solutions announced Tuesday that it will launch a service to help utilities block those attacks.

Smart meters give electricity providers real-time energy readings from customers, but they also present an opportunity for hackers to break into systems and manipulate data. Verizon Enterprise Solutions, a major cybersecurity provider, said it will help utilities and other businesses encrypt data from smart meters, thermostats and other vulnerable devices.

Verizon’s solution is to automatically certify any data genuinely sent from such devices, so a utility’s computer system will know if the data has been tampered with, Sys said.

“It’s a first line of defense,” said Johan Sys, managing principal of identity and access management for Verizon Enterprise Solutions.

Cybersecurity: Hackers targeting energy subcontractors for big steals

There are more Internet-connected devices on the planet than there are people, including automated sprinkler systems, home lighting controls and remote systems for cars. Other firms are offering similar services, in anticipation of attacks on such devices, said Chris Bronk, a fellow specializing in information technology and policy at Rice University’s Baker Institute.

“My new refrigerator has internet protocol on it,” he said.

Most of the newly connected devices were not initially thought to be targets for hackers, but that is changing.

Verizon tests have shown how hackers can break into the navigation system of a boat and alter its orientation, Sys said.

“You could actually steer the boat the wrong way,” he said. “These are examples that people didn’t necessarily consider.”

By hacking into a smart meter, a person can make it appear as if a home is using no electricity or is using a lot, Sys said.

Malware offshore: Danger lurks where the chips fail

There may be other problems presented by similar devices, he said.

Hacking an office thermostat, for example, could result in a shutdown of air conditioning, which could, in turn, affect computer servers.

There is similar concern at other energy company systems, such as connected devices at refineries and power plants.