PORTLAND, Ore.—Smart meters promise to sweep away energy inefficiencies by allowing users to monitor, control and optimize their energy usage remotely. Unfortunately, those virtues come at the expense of reduced security, leaving open hacker backdoors that enable snooping, fraud and criminal tampering with safety systems.
To remedy these concerns, Freescale Semiconductor Inc. (Austin, Texas) partnered with Inside Secure (Aix-en-Provence, France) in a smart-meter reference design that cure these security ills with near field communication (NFC) technology that has already been proven in the banking industry.
"We partnered with Inside Secure to demonstrate that the world's most advanced security features could be easily integrated with smart meters," said Meera Balakrishnan, Freescale smart energy segment marketing manager.
At the recent security conference "28c3" (28th Chaos Communication Congress, December 27-30, 2011, Berlin, Germany) hackers demonstrated how easy it was to defeat the security apparatus of specific smart meters. Here, and at other recent venues, hackers showed how smart meters allow unauthorized intrusions that can remote-control meters, the devices they control, and even the safety systems that households depend upon to prevent burglaries. Fortunately, with proper designs—and a few extra security protocols—these deficiencies can be avoided.
"By combining our contact-less near-field communications chip technology with the Freescale's secure microcontroller technologies, our smart meter reference design enables secure mechanical meters that are virtually tamper-proof," said Olivier Debelleix, Inside Secure's business line manager for embedded security.
Freescale's Secure Smart Meter design enlisted banking-industry-proven near-field communications (NFC) protocols from Inside Secure partnership, using a smartphone or smartcard with NFC to load prepaid credits.
Key to the secure smart meter is Inside Secure's VaultIC chip that uses its MicroRead NFC technology which allows users to purchase energy credits with their smartphone (or smartcard), then securely load them into the smart meter using the same technology that allows users to make banking card purchases using NFC.
The secure smart-meter reference design makes use of the cryptographic hardware on Freescale's Kinetis MK30 microcontroller (built on the ARM Cortex-M4 core) using mutual authentication, verification, security certificates, encryption/decryption and on-chip management of secure cryptographic keys. The secure smart meter used the MK30's built-in segment LCD controller to drive the display of metering values and ran on Freescale’s MQX real-time operating system. The system was certified to meet the requirements of the Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS140-2 Level 3)--a U.S. government computer security standard used to accredit cryptographic systems.
The secure smart-meter design is on-display in the Freescale booth this week in the U.S. and in Europe at the DistribuTECH Conference and Exhibition 2012 (Jan. 24-26, San Antonio, Texas) and the Smart Metering UK & Europe Summit 2012 (January 26-27, London), respectively.