The government’s scheme to roll out smart meters in every British home by 2020 is slowly making progress.
The objective of smart meters – which automatically take gas and electricity usage readings and transmit them to suppliers – is to reduce costs, raise awareness of energy consumption and deliver more control to households and businesses.
But beneath the surface there is a concern that the meters are not secure enough, and are therefore susceptible to hacking.
Utilities are becoming more vulnerable
There is a general view that the security of the devices is too simplistic and weak. This is a real concern for both customers and the utility companies.
The personal data collected by these devices is often sent via the mobile data network and, since utility companies are reluctant to transmit via broadband services, they could be liable if a meter was hacked.
The customer too has ample right to be concerned about how data collected on them is used, or misused.
But it’s not just about considering the data and its transmission in isolation, the entire supply chain security needs to be addressed: what happens to the data held on the device when the meter is removed from the wall?
At both a micro and macro level there are also concerns for instances in which multiple devices are compromised as this would impact the national power grid.
The simple truth is that, as the organisational boundaries and type of customer data increase, data security is an increasingly vital issue for the utilities industry.
Growing lack of trust
Consumers are increasingly aware of the data trails they produce and how this information is being used by companies.
Personal information is intrinsically linked with trust, and customers expect companies to use and secure their data in an appropriate manner. This trust, however, is hard won.
Findings from Fujitsu’s ‘DataHeaven or DataGeddon’ report showed that 32% of consumers said they had little or no confidence in utilities companies to manage their data security.
It’s largely accepted that customers are more willing to trade personal information in exchange for a better service – a crucial element to the smart meter initiative.
However, nearly half (43%) of consumers felt they didn’t see any improvement in the services they received as a result of sharing their data with utility companies. Only 6% believed utility companies gave them a better service by using their personal data.
Ensuring data security
As smart meters become more and more commonplace it’s essential that utility companies try and repair this damaged trust with their customers.
Most consumers don’t tend to identify with their energy data but as the data collected on our utility use increases, and becomes more fine grained, it could be exploited in an equally nefarious manner.
Apparently, innocuous data could be used to not only indicate where you live, but also, based on consumption, when you’re in the house or if you live alone. When put that way, consumers’ worries are easy to empathise with.
It is hugely important that we gain more understanding of our energy use in domestic and business environments and seek more routes to reduce consumption.
Smart meters do with help this, but what’s imperative is that utility companies take security seriously too in order to restore consumer trust.
After all, if trust is already an issue, what would the fallout of a full scale breach of customer data be?
Check our website to find out how you can protect your utility business from today’s modern hackers.
Graeme has a first degree in Computing Science and a Masters in Business Administration. He has successfully used his experience and knowledge of both business and technology to deliver IT enabled change for many organisations. Outside of work, Graeme has completed a project to build his own house and plays regularly in a band.