Skip to main content

Inside Green IT

Four Ways to Hack the Smart Grid

Worried about the security of the Smart Grid? You should be. Security researchers warn that the Smart Grid could become a hacker's playground. As proof, here are four ways the Smart Grid can be hacked.

Technology Review has an excellent article outlining ways in which the Smart Grid is vulnerable. Here, based on the article, are four ways it can be hacked via the smart meters that will be in businesses and people's homes.

Attack Smart Meter RAM

The article says that security researcher Travis Goodspeed warns that attackers will be able to hack directly into smart meter RAM, and by doing that, get free reign. It sounds a little James Bond-ish, but here's how the articles claims says it can be done:

If the meter hasn't been built with protective features, a hacker can use syringes to insert a needle into each side of the device's memory chip. The needle serves as a probe to intercept the electrical signals in the memory chip. By analyzing these signals, the hacker can deduce the device's programming. Even if the meter includes security features, he says, it may be possible to extract the information using customized tools.

Hack the Meter's Digital radio

Godspeed says a similar technique to RAM-hacking can be used to get command of the smart meter's radio, and from there, launch attacks on the grid itself. Here's what the the article says:

The smart meter's two-way radio chip allows the device to be read remotely and to receive commands over the network. The software in the chip contains security codes that an attacker who's cracked the meter's programming can use to get on the network and begin issuing commands. Goodspeed has shown that the codes can be extracted using syringes in a process similar to the attack on the memory.

Hack the Meter Wirelessly

The article says that David Baker, director of services for security firm IOActive, warns that hackers can get into the meter via its wireless networking device for communicating with the network:

An attacker can use a software radio, which can be programmed to emulate a variety of communications devices, to listen in on wireless communications with the network and deduce over time how to communicate with the meters. Another method, Baker says, is to attack the hardware. An attacker could steal a meter from the side of a house and reverse-engineer it. This method, he says, while inexpensive, does require a good knowledge of integrated circuits.

Spread Malware Throughout the Network

Baker says that once someone has gotten access to a smart meter's programming, he could easily launch a worm or other malware to attack the network itself, other smart meters, and other devices attached to the grid. In fact, Baker has already demonstrated that it can be done, the article says:

To demonstrate his attack, Davis crafted a piece of malware that could self-replicate to other meters, allowing an attacker to shut them down remotely. In simulations, Davis showed that if his worm were released in an area where all the houses were equipped with the same brand of meter, the worm could spread to 15,000 homes in the space of 24 hours.

Photo CC-licensed by Flickr user HVargas.

More on this topic