“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: