Drip, Drip, Drip: Water Meters Leak RF; Cheat Customers

“Smart” water meters have slipped by without much public notice, and are being installed all over the US currently, often inside people’s homes. There are different systems and companies, but as with electric and gas ‘smart’ meters, they broadcast your usage data wirelessly, permeating your home with radio-frequency radiation and compromising your privacy.

In addition, there are billing problems, as a man in San Clemente CA recently found out: his bill jumped from $40 to $800. This 90-year-old WWII veteran dutifully checked his home for leaks, but it’s extremely difficult to explain the disappearance of two full-sized swimmingpools-worth of water.

“Smart” metering systems in general are looking increasingly insecure and unprotected from attacks: these hackers needed only two days to get into an electricity ‘smart’ meter and fake readings. According to a recent assessment, new water-metering systems “are vulnerable because of the wireless medium they use. Communications are not encrypted (largely due to higher costs) and so they are easily intercepted, faked, or even jammed.”

At the August 2011 Black Hat, where security experts and hackers explored the growing number of vulnerabilities in our computerized world, water security expert John McNabb, of Cohasset Water Dept, Cohasset MA, presented a well-researched white paper, outlining how insecure wireless water-metering systems really are. He identified several entry points for hacking and sabotage, including chemical over- and under-dosing of water supplies. This kind of water-utility hacking may have already happened in Texas.

Then there is the issue of in-home RF radiation. Some types of systems are constant RF-emitters, with the vast majority of pulses doing nothing but irradiating you: The AMR-type water meters (e.g. Neptune’s) pulse RF every 14 seconds–that’s 5,700+ pulses a day. The utility-employed reader drives around once a month with a device (see right) that receives ONE of the pulses. The other 170,000+ that go off all month long do nothing but saturate the home with radio-frequency. Here’s a video documenting the way the pulses permeate the home environment (St Paul MN).

Here is another video documenting the industrial-strength RF pulses on the Neptune water meter: up to 80 microwatts per square centimeter next to the device (=797 mW/m2 peak in photo, left). Video from SmarterMeters. One pulse for them, millions of pulses for you.

Other types, like the system San Francisco PUC has begun deploying, have pole-top or building-top receivers, and meter/transmitters tend to be located in wells in the sidewalk, adding to the public’s RF exposure. Last year ABC7 did a video piece on that system and its problems. Nonetheless, those meters continue to be installed, with no official opt-out program. Here is their RF assessment, which as usual rests its assurances of safety on sky-high FCC “guidelines.”

Lack of public input; lack of proper governmental oversight; utility priorities trumping environmental and health considerations; unexplained overbilling; and customer privacy infringement: we’ve seen all this in the context of electricity ‘smart’ meters. 

Now the same scenario is unfolding with water metering. It’s all about the cost to the utility. They save money on meter readers, and consequences to the consumer be damned.

Update 31 Jan 2012: Sheffield UK, Man wises up to smart water meter intrusion–resist’n’wrap!

Update: a video on some measurements on Israeli water smart meters, and a related blog post: http://norad4u.blogspot.com/2012/01/smart-radiating-wireless-water-meters.html:

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to Drip, Drip, Drip: Water Meters Leak RF; Cheat Customers

  1. Jim says:

    Some good information in all that:

    “Researchers from Münster University of Applied Sciences were previously able analyze smart meter data to identify the power consumption activity for a refrigerator, stove, and television. They showed that the type of LCD TV set could be identified, what TV program was on, or if a movie was playing from a DVD or other source. The research team called for a tightening of data protection regulations. Building upon that, the 28C3 presentation “Smart Hacking For Privacy” demonstrated that consumers can be identified via the data collected by a smart meter, from the types and amount of your devices, your TV shows, to scanning for copyright-protected (or pirated) movies being watched.”

    (you need to translate this with google translate)
    http://www.its.fh-muenster.de/greveler/pubs/smartmeter_sep11_v06.pdf

    Some of that article goes a little too far, I think the author wanted to push his point. But it did provide some good information for further research.

  2. Redi Kilowatt says:

    As for automated water meters, there are many different types of systems being used.
    In some areas, the utilities are consolidated, and sometimes public agencies.
    With the utilization of the mobile phone networks already in place, ATT and Verizon have teamed up with Qualcom to sell the utilities use of there existing networks for revenue collection (automated meter reading). There are various combinations being tested, some combine electric, gas and water meters together. Some like the SFPUC, have their own proprietary radio networks and frequencies (in the 450 MHz band).
    In Marin county, the largest water provider is the Marin Municipal Water District (MMWD).
    Back around 1992, the MMWD finished installing a new SCADA system and new control room. I took a tour of the new control room, they explained about how now, they can view everything in the system remotely by radio, and can remotely control pumps, valves and monitor equipment status and function, even reverse the flow in transmission lines if need be.
    At that tour, the MMWD told us about the new water meter program that they were going to implement, it was to use existing customers land line telephone wires to transmit the billing data.
    Then, they changed their plan to what they call a radio meter.
    They started a pilot program around 1995, installing new water meters with a radio transmitter powered by a battery. This transmitter was normally off, but once a month, a meter reader would have to hike up or down to the meter, and with a handheld device would turn on the transmitter an get the monthly read.
    The MMWD had many problems with the radio meter system, because of the topography of the county, and the transmissions of the low powered transmitters were not getting through very well, and the data was not reliable.
    So they basically scrapped the radio meter project here in Marin. They still have a few dozen in use for large commercial buildings and in locations where cars park on top of the meter boxes.
    I recently had the MMWD install a new water meter for me because I was doing some landscape improvements. I asked the MMWD employee if I was going to get a new radio meter, he told me all about the program and NO, they did not give me a radio meter.
    Automated water meters may work in some areas of the country, but not everywhere, and the MMWD meter readers are here to stay, no layoffs.

  3. Soapbox Jill says:

    Our town water meters are what put me over the edge of exposure in the neighborhood. They pulse signals every 4 seconds. The electric & gas meters combine (so they say) at about 10 signals per day.
    Our water meters use a bubble up technology that does not need FCC regulation, whatever the heck that means.

  4. Tom Fletcher says:

    What is the best way to disable these smart water meters…breaking off the wifi antenna?

  5. Mike says:

    Tom: Not sure on why you would want to disable the smart meter. By having the municipality read the meter many times a day, allows the Township to monitor your usage. If you have a leak beyond the meter, the municipality will catch this very quickly and notify you of the leak. The only reason I could see you wanting to disconnect your smart meter is activity in your household that you don’t want the public sector to find out about. By the way, tampering in any way with your utility meter is more likely a contravention of the by-law in which you could be subject to fines or termination of your service. real smart Tom, real smart!

  6. VICTORY! As the handsome Scotsman from Sheffield featuring in your UPDATE video (above), I can inform you that my campaign for removing the smart attachment on the water meter is apparently successful!

    Email today from Yorkshire Water today. Contained the immortal line:

    “I have sent a reply to your first email however I will also pass a copy of
    this email to the department dealing with it and without prejudice have
    arrangements made for the removal of the radio unit.”

    Supporters of your fine campaign may also be encouraged to learn that the UK government has backed down on the compulsory fitting of smart meters for gas and electricity supplies – http://economicsurvivor.net/2012/02/01/victory-against-smart-metering/

    Good luck to you guys!

  7. Gerrit Rentier says:

    It’s actually quite strange to object to smart meters, unless you also NEVER use a cell phone and NEVER make payments through Internet. A cell phone causes a lot more radiation, but you keep it close to your face. It also tells “them” where you are 24*7 and who you are calling on the phone day in day out. And your payments through Internet are more accessible to hackers than the smart meter data. So, if you use neither, than this objection is in line with your behaviour, else this is a really weird attitude to progress.

    • admin says:

      Hey Gerrit, Perhaps you’d like to explore why your very own government, in the Netherlands, approved a no-cost opt-out from wirelessly-transmitting electricity meters for all citizens?

      Weird attitude toward progress? I’d say an attitude that puts technology over and above human well-being and prevention of harm is truly the weird attitude.

    • Redi Kilowatt says:

      Gerrit,
      I use a mobile phone for business (but not a smart phone), and I occasionally make payments over the internet. But I don’t have a smart meter (never will) and I don’t think it is strange of me to reject one.
      The AMR smart meters that the utility sold us here are useless for anybody that is into progress of technology. They are not advanced bi-directional electric meters and don’t work for people who generate their own power with solar, wind, hydro and geothermal.
      Believe it or not, many people are doing this here in the region that I live (northern California), especially solar. Not everybody who operates a solar generating system is tied to the electric power grid where there is no grid power available, but the majority of the people do have grid power and a grid tied generating system. The radio AMR SmartMeters and the radio “smart grid” are too simple to record power generated and being back fed into the electric power grid, nor do these simple AMR meters work with special chargers for electric vehicles that someday in the distant future, will be able to utilize the stored power in the batteries of electric vehicles that are not being used.
      Personally, I think the expense of the advanced meters, the electric vehicles, the rectifying and inverting of electricity from AC to DC and back to AC again is lossy and inefficient. Right now it’s just a just a pie in the sky that may never pan out, just like many other technology pipe dreams. But one thing that is real, is the special E9 electric rates for vehicle chargers (ONLY) that are as low as $0.06 per kilowatt/hour between the hours of 12 midnight to 7:00 am. The SmartMeters don’t work for the E9 program either. So they are absolutely worthless and useless when considering modern technology advances. They are a big step backwards.
      I know that the Silver Springs radio “smart grid” does not transmit any personal information over their 900 Mhz radio network, just a computer address and total electrical usage for the month. I am not worried about all that science fiction stuff that people post on the internet, it’s all pure bunk.

    • Progress is breaking out of absolute mindsets. Further progress is taking the time to understand an issue before criticizing those who have.

  8. Redi Kilowatt says:

    to Smarter Meters and everyone else,
    I need to clarify what I wrote about the science fiction.
    I was not referring to all the studies and research being done on the harmful effects of RF radiation. This is science fact, not science fiction.
    What I was referring to was all the false information being bandied about by non-scientists who make videos and post about how the smart meters are able to discern what a customer is actually powering with the current sent through the meter, and about how the meters “talk” to appliances and how appliances “talk” to the meters and the utility. That is the science fiction bunk that I was referring to. The AMR SmartMeters are not interactive with anything downstream of the meter inside a private building, the meters are not capable of anything advanced, the sole function is to report total electrical usage to the utility once every four hours over the radio “smart grid”, and by 2014 be capable of a time differential pricing scheme that will let the utility know the total electricity used between the hours of 2:00pm and 7:00pm. This time differential pricing program is supposed to be voluntary and experimental. If the customers do not see a reduction of their electricity bill after a two year trial of the new pricing program, the program will be scrapped.

    • Bellson says:

      Hi Redi Kilowatt,

      You should do some more research. The Smart Meters (electric utility) are software upgradable over the air and over the wire.

      These meters (in hardware) have the ability ro recieve status messages from soon to be introduced “Smart Appliances”.

      As an Electronics Engineer, I have studied these meters and I am quite aware of what they are capable of. Simply put, they can monitor the amount of electricity that is transferred through them, they can temporarily store those variations, they can broadcast those stored data, and they can transmit that data via the power grid as well. The insidious part of all of that is that the meters can be enabled (in the existing designs) to also recieve, store, and forward data from other “Smart” devices….Ovens, heaters, air conditioners, pool pumps, washers, dryers, thermostats, etc.

      I strongly suggest that you are not half as informed as you think you are. How does the Kool-Aid taste?

      Regards,

  9. we all need to stand up and have our voices heard! smart water electric and gas meters are being forced upon our homes as we speak! we here in michigan are saying no! dont let them in and refuse and get legislature going to stop all deployment of all wired meters! pauline holeton our website is http://www.w4ar.com for allot of smart meter info! 586 731 3314 please join us and the fight

  10. Linda says:

    Here’s an 80 year old grandmother and great-grandmother standing firm against her Wisconsin town’s attempts to install a smart water meter. So far, she has held them off. If she has the courage to do this, so should we.
    Video is good till the end.

  11. Marcelo says:

    We have become victims of outrageous water bills with the Neptune Meters. Month of August we paid $384 for 108,000 gallons of water. This moth it is potentially 817,000 gallons. I suspected a leak in the sprinkler system so this month it was on one week. How can we have eight times the volume when we had two weeks with the sprinkler system in September? The readings cannot be correct. There are no leaks from the system except the water meter readings. Our normal 4 to 8000 gallons a month had become thousands dollars now. Can somebody explain this? I am a retired engineer and live in Beverly Hills, FL, Citrus County. I know three other families who had leaks and paid dearly for the water. A plumber and I myself had tested my house and there are no leaks found.

    • sue stophel says:

      I agree! There r only 12 condos where I live. For the life of us we have been trying 2 figure out why there is no water pressure 4 the sprinklers at the end of the cul-de-sac! Ta frickin da! The dumb Neptune thing! It only balances water if everyone else has it! I’m afraid to tell the HOA what I just discovered by reading up on this! They are getting ready to install a whole new sprinkler system!

  12. Marcelo Reyes says:

    Correction. Month of August, sprinkler system was on two weeks. Month of September, it was on only one week and yet the water usage is eight times more, 108,000 to 817,000 gallons? How can that be?

  13. Non paranoid says:

    Seems to me the author has an agenda favoring utility workers. I wonder if the SIEU or like organization was involved in the article’s publication. Having said that, I could care less if someone is using the Smart Meter to see what TV shows I watch. Who the hell am I? If these things truly can hack into my computer like a virus… again, I could care less. Nobody is going up and down my street picking off the info of all my neighbor’s water meters one by one. A real hacker would go after the water company to get everyone’s info in one fell swoop. Or the bank the utility runs its deposits through. So there’s nothing you can do about it anyway so deal with it. Although these days we’re supposed to be “offended” and feign outrage that our “privacy” is being invaded, waaaah! You afraid of electronic stuff so you write checks instead of using credit and debit and online payments? How do you think the utility’s bank gets your payment funds from your bank? Right, electronically. This is how it works today. Stop bitching about progress. You sound like the proverbial old man yearning for yesteryear. Stop thinking anyone cares how many times you flush your toilet each day. If you’re afraid of the health risks, then give your microwave away, throw out all those diabetes-causing frozen dinners from the freezer and learn to lighten up. You’re gonna give yourself a stroke!

    • Paul H says:

      Would you please do your body a favor and watch “Resonance Beings of Frequency”…. Since you talk about things that can give us strokes. Make sure to watch all the way to the end where the credits are given.

  14. Smart Meter Installer says:

    Hey everybody. Let me start by saying that I work for a utility company and we’re currently installing smart meters for water in our city. There are many different systems out there. I will admit that I don’t know much about them, but I do know quite a bit about the one we have in our city. There are small antennas (less than 1 foot) on top of lightpoles etc that pick up a signal from the smart meters which are attached to the water meter, or they can be mounted outside for a fee. The radio sends out a signal for about 15 seconds a day. I think people are getting too worked up over the radio emissions. The system in our city, a smart phone can be 100,000 times more powerful than a smart meter. And a smart meter is never sending a constant signal while in your hand or next to your head, like a smartphone does. This is why they send out a signal every day: often, the smart meter can’t be installed in a place where it will give off a good signal. The basement of the home could be finished, meaning the radio can’t be mounted up as high as it needs to be. The meter could be “boxed in” (inside a wall, cupboard, etc) and it can’t be mounted high enough. A lot of metal or concrete in a building can also interfere with the signal. They send out a signal every day because that increases the chance that we can get at least 1 good reading per month. In my honest opinion, smart meters are nothing to worry about. At least not for our city. As for increase in water prices, I think it’s true, I won’t lie. Utilities are saving money by not using meter readers, and probably also upping the price of water. I myself think it’s kind of wrong to increase the price, but it’s life.. things happen, it’s not that big of a deal. Just thought this discussion could use some input from someone who actually knows what they’re talking about. No offense to anybody in particular. But there are a lot of people who read or hear a bunch of bullcrap about smart meters that isn’t true, then they preach like they’re an expert. I deal with them every day at work. I won’t lie to anybody, I tell my honest opinion. Just because I work for a company that installs them, doesn’t mean that I can’t be truthful about what I really think. Alright, enough babbling for me. If anyone has a specific question, you can ask me and I’ll give you my best answer

  15. Clark Karlebach says:

    My last meter reading was 50% higher than it has been for the same quarter for the last 2 years. This reading was the first one since Superstorm Sandy when we lost power for 9 days. Is there any possibility this power outage could affect the reading?

  16. Greg says:

    Syracuse just sent out letter for scheduling smart meter instalations. I had mine installed 2 weeks ago. I received my water bill for the last quarter a few days after installation and it was the usual $50 a month. Two weeks later I get a bill in the mail for the quarter and it is now $250!!!!!! Impossible!!! My bill was already set for the quarter, how in two weeks do I use 4x the amount of water that is normally used? Not to mention the bill had already been sent.
    So funny that this happenend right after my meter was installed. I’m so ticked off right now.

  17. Ketan Pardeshi says:

    We have water meter reader installed in our society which are giving correct reading for last 6 months. In our area person is not coming to fetch data, there is some sort of device installed in our area which send the data to the web. We have individual login which shows the total usage of the water on daily basis as per users meter and we have verified this with reading on the meter. Surprisingly it is coming accurate. We are also having the reports for water usage on daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis.

    We have taken the solution from Maven Systems Pvt ltd, Pune.
    URL for the your reference…http://mavensystems.com/water_meter.html

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>