British consumers could easily hack into controversial new smart meters, allowing them to illegally slash their energy bills, cyber-security experts have warned.
The caution came as top White Hall apparatchiks met with energy industry leaders today to discuss plans that will see the the devices installed in every British home by 2020.
Smart meters are supposed to provide more accurate bills by constantly monitoring energy use and sending this information to utility providers in real time.
But cyber security experts have warned that these devices can be easily hacked to send false information.
"Smart meters could be hacked to under-report consumption and this should act as warning to the British programme," said Alejandro Rivas-Vásquez, principal adviser in KPMG’s Cyber Security department. "If the technology could be hacked for fraud, hackers with more nefarious intent may use these flaws for other purposes."
In Spain, researchers have already managed to hack smart meters and send false information to energy providers.
The UK has set out guidelines aimed at beefing up the security of smart meters, but this might not be enough to stop determined hackers finding a way to bypass protections.
“Cyber criminals and cyber terrorists are improving their capabilities very quickly," Rivas-Vásquez continued.
He said that industry and regulators needed to start thinking and acting much more quickly if they want to stop a free energy bonanza.
Previous energy innovations have been attractive to criminals.
Criminals were also quick to hack top-up cards for prepaid electricity meters when they were introduced in the noughties, in some cases going door to door to sell cheaper, illegal energy credit to customers.
In chilly Scotland, the problem was particularly acute. This reporter once exposed the organised gangs that knocked on vulnerable, elderly people's doors to flog them fake energy credit.
Between now and 2020, more than 50 million new smart meters will be rolled out to 30 million homes across Britain.
Previous research has suggested that smart meters will save British homes just £26 a year and will cost a total of £10.6bn to install across the country.
The Westminster Energy, Environment & Transport Forum is meeting today at the Royal Society in London. This event is called "Delivering the Smart Meter Implementation Plan: roll‐out, privacy and consumer engagement". ®