AT&T Launches Smart Grid Despite Hacking Concerns


Security consultants have engineered a worm which can bring down smart grids – while AT&T launches a product and the UK backs the concept

Telecoms giant AT&T has become the latest technology provider to target the perceived need for smart grid technology but concerns have emerged around the security of the systems.


Smart grids use embedded IT to reduce overall power usage in electricity distribution system, and are a major part of government plans to meet carbon emissions targets, with the UK government planning to install smart meters in all homes by 2020.

AT&T has a deal in the US with metering specialist SmartSynch to make it easier for utility companies to integrate their existing systems with SmartSynch’s intelligent grid technology – already deployed in around 100 energy and water companies.

“Utilities throughout the US face tremendous challenges to increase renewable energy sources and efficiency, as well as manage new applications, which place new complexities on an already complex system,” said Chris Hill, vice president, mobility product management, AT&T Business Solutions. “To meet these changing demands in support of the recent economic stimulus bill, AT&T and SmartSynch are offering this new solution to help the industry migrate to smart grids.”

But the announcement follows recent reports that smart grid technology may be open to hacking. Researchers from US security consultancy IOActive managed to create a worm that was able to be spread from one smart metering device to another thanks to the wireless technology that is used to connect them, according to reports.

Once the worm had spread through the devices on a smart grid, the security consultants claimed they would be able to gain control of the system and potentially shut it down. The researchers have admitted that the full results of their investigation may never be made publicly available due to it sensitive nature.

For its part, AT&T was keen to point out its commitment to security alongside the smart grid announcement. “Over the last decade, AT&T has invested significant resources in implementing security features on its global network and best practices that comply with national and international standards,” the company said.

Interest in smart grids in the UK has come from government, which wants to use it to give businesses and consumers an accurate view of their energy usage. In October 2008, the UK government announced that all UK households will have the technology by 2020 and in January this year, opposition leader David Cameron announced his party’s backing for a £1bn investment in a smart energy grid.