Like your Privacy? Fool that Smart Meter

By AURORA GEIB | NATURAL NEWS | JULY 16, 2012

The recent roll out of smart meters has brought about mixed reactions from consumers. On one hand, there are activist groups broadcasting the health and privacy concerns that smart meters may potentially have. On the other, the utility companies are championing the advantages of smart meters in the face of a $3.4 billion fund stimulus given by the government for smart grid technologies (it sure is nice of them to be advocating energy savings while they line their pockets with all that money from the government).

Curiously, in all this haste to accomplish the government’s energy program, no federal safeguards seem to have been designed to protect customer information from being accessed by others – information that smart meters could be sending (the activist group may have a point on this one). Worse, it appears that smart meters themselves are not an impregnable fortress – the meter can be subject to hacking.

Smart meters hacked in Puerto Rico

In 2009, the Federal Bureau of Investigation investigated widespread incidents of power thefts in Puerto Rico believed to be related to smart meter deployment. The FBI believed that former employees of the meter manufacturer and employees of the utility company were tampering with the meters charging between $300 to $1,000 to reprogram residential meters and $3,000 to reprogram commercial meters.

The perpetrators were said to have hacked into the smart meters using an optical converter device connected to a laptop, allowing smart meters to connect with the computer. The hackers were able to change the settings for recording power consumptions using software available on the internet after making a connection. This method does not require the removal, alteration or disassembly of the meter.

Another recent example of smart meter hacking was demonstrated by Mike Davis, a security consultant. He reverse-engineered a meter bought on Ebay and installed a computer program that replicated itself across the wireless network and blocked the utility company as it went. Jack Bode, writing for Canada.com, made the wry observation that we won’t have to worry about getting bombed if ever we go to war again. The enemy only has to “hack us and turn off the power.”

Fooling smart meters

The old ways of tampering with analog meters may no longer apply to smart meters. One of the reasons smart meters were employed was to curb electricity theft. In fact, it is estimated that millions of dollars are annually lost due to electricity theft.

Nevertheless, the Puerto Rico incident demonstrates that a smart meter can still be vulnerable to attack using a simple laptop, an optical converter device and a program that can be downloaded from the internet. To date, this is probably the best proven way to fool a smart meter.

At the cost of sounding unscrupulous, the following are some suggestions made by experts on how to fool a smart meter:

1) Attacking a smart meter’s memory-through hardware – If a smart meter hasn’t been built with protective features, inserting a needle on each side of the device’s memory chip can do the trick. The needle intercepts the electrical signals in the memory chip. From these signals, a device’s programming can be determined. If security features are in place, it is still possible to obtain the data through customized tools.

2) Using a digital radio – The two-way radio chip in a smart meter allows the device to be read remotely and receive commands over the network. A hacker, who has cracked the meter’s programming, can use security codes from the software in the chip to get on the network and issue commands.

3) Accessing the meter – Another method of hacking the smart meter is through a wireless device. Using a software radio programmed to mimic a variety of communication devices, a hacker can listen in on wireless communications in the network and guess over time how to communicate with the meter. Another method is to steal a meter and reverse-engineer it; although inexpensive, the process would require a good knowledge of integrated circuits.

4) Spreading malware to the network – With access to the smart meter’s programming codes, it is possible to connect with all other meters in the network that have the same brand. David Baker, director of services for IOActive, a Seattle-based research company , demonstrated this possibility when he designed a virus that could replicate itself in other meters and enable a hacker to shut down the system remotely. In simulations, Davis was able to show that if his malware were to be released in a location where all the houses were fitted with the same brand of meter, it could spread to 15,000 homes in 24 hours.

5) Measuring electrical consumption – Inside smart meters are sensors that measure energy consumption. Under the old mechanical meters, interfering with the meter’s ability to report accurately has been the means of many unscrupulous individuals to save money on electricity, like by the use of magnets. The old method used with analog meters may not be difficult to use in fooling the old meters but the new generation of smart meters were designed to protect against such automated methods.

Caveat

If only for the sake of discussion, the main point in discussing how to fool a smart meter is only for the purpose of guarding privacy in the home. This article is not intended to aid or abet criminal activity.

Fooling your meter so you get to save on the electricity bill is illegal and down right unethical.

U.S. consumers say ‘No’ to antibiotics

By MICHELLE GROENKE | UPI | JUNE 25, 2012

A U.S. consumer group is campaigning to get local supermarkets to sell only meat that has been raised without antibiotics.

The campaign by Consumers Union, the public policy arm of Consumer Reports, coincides with the release of a study that suggests 86 percent of Americans want meat raised without antibiotics, which can be a difficult task due to misleading and unapproved labels, Consumer Reports said last week.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration earlier this year issued guidelines to cut back the use of antibiotics in animals raised for food.

The voluntary initiative requires certain antibiotics not be used for so-called “production” purposes, such as to enhance growth or improve feed efficiency in an animal. The antibiotics would still be available to prevent, control or treat illnesses under veterinary supervision, officials said.

The FDA said it is trying to ensure medicines people need remain safe and effective. A drug may no longer be as effective in treating various illnesses or infections once bacteria or other microbes develop resistance to it, the agency said.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, however, criticized the guidelines, saying they rely too heavily on the drug industry and animal producers to act voluntarily in the best interests of consumers.

“Decades of misuse have led to some common pathogens, like Salmonella, becoming more virulent and less treatable,” the CSPI said in a statement. “The FDA knows it can no longer afford to ignore antibiotic resistance.”

An estimated 70 percent of U.S. antibiotics sold are given to healthy farm animals, not to treat disease but to allow animals to live closer together and decrease the amount of time it takes to raise an animal and send it to market, the Union of Concerned Scientists said last month.

U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., last week renewed her call for the passage of legislation to regulate antibiotic use in animal feed

“The vast majority of Americans are concerned about the effect antibiotic overuse on farm animals is having on their health, and rightly so,” Slaughter said Wednesday. “Unfortunately too many of our institutions, from the federal government to big business, have ignored this issue. But they won’t be able to ignore us for much longer because, as this poll shows, more and more Americans are waking up to the dangers posed by the daily feeding of antibiotics to otherwise healthy animals.”

Slaughter, who is a microbiologist, said antibiotic-resistant infections “kill more Americans than AIDS.”

“That is a frightening figure, and to really get out in front of this problem we must eliminate the use of all classes of antibiotics in farm animals that are important to human health.”

Slaughter has been pressing since 2007 for passage of legislation that would prevent the overuse of seven classes of antibiotics.

While consumers say they want to eat meat that isn’t treated with antibiotics, finding it can be a challenge in some stores.

Consumer Reports said it sent “secret shoppers” out to 136 stores in five states, including stores operated by the 13 largest supermarket chains around the country. Shoppers found differences in the availability of meat and poultry raised without antibiotics. Whole Foods guarantees all meat and poultry sold is raised without antibiotics. Wide selections of meat and poultry raised without antibiotics was also found at Giant, Hannaford, Shaw’s and Stop & Shop, Consumer Reports said.

Shoppers at Sam’s Club, Food 4 Less, Food Lion, and Save-A-Lot said they couldn’t find any meat or poultry labeled as being raised without antibiotics.

“We are asking supermarkets to step up to the challenge and tell their suppliers to procure only meat and poultry that has been raised without antibiotics,” Jean Halloran, director of food policy Initiatives for Consumers Union, said in a statement. “Antibiotics are losing their potency in people, leading to a major national health crisis, and we need to drastically reduce their use in food animals.”

A poll conducted by the group said 86 percent of consumers want meat raised without antibiotics in their local supermarket, and more than 60 percent of respondents said they would be willing to pay at least 5 cents a pound more for meat raised without antibiotics. More than a third said they would pay $1 or more extra per pound.

Consumer Reports said 72 percent of respondents were extremely or very concerned about the overuse of antibiotics in animal feed.

Prices for antibiotic-free meat and poultry were not necessarily higher than similar meat products. Chicken raised without antibiotics was available for as little as $1.29 a pound at several stores including Trader Joe’s, Publix and Jewel-Osco.

Labeling is an issue, Consumer Reports said, with more than 20 different labels related to antibiotic use, some of which can be misleading.

Consumer Reports said it has sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture calling for a standard label and to publish the names of the companies who are approved to use it, and for what products.

“Consumers would benefit from one standard, meaningful, USDA-verified label that is consistent on all meat and poultry products from animals raised without antibiotics,” said Urvashi Rangan, director of consumer safety and sustainability at Consumer Reports.

The Consumers Union supermarket campaign, which has a companion Web site, http://www.meatwithoutdrugs.org, is starting their campaign with Trader Joe’s.

“We’re calling on Trader Joe’s to only source their meat from animals raised without antibiotics,” the group said on the Web site. “As one of the most progressive national retailers, Trader Joe’s has already demonstrated care for their customers’ health by saying no to GMOs [genetically modified organisms], artificial colors and trans fats in the products they sell. Trader Joe’s can also be a leader by helping move the livestock industry in the right direction.”

The survey of 1,000 U.S. adults was conducted in March by the Consumer Reports National Research Center. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Swiss Franc Devaluation Attempt Backfires

FT
August 18, 2011

Traders shrugged off new measures by the Swiss authorities to stem demand for their currency, sending the Swiss franc sharply higher on Wednesday.

The Swiss franc jumped 2 per cent against both the euro and the dollar in a matter of minutes, as traders ignored the Swiss National Bank’s decision to almost double the amount of liquidity available to the money market from SFr120bn ($152bn) to SFr200bn. The increase, which compares with “normal” liquidity levels of about SFr30bn, has lowered already rock-bottom interest rates and turned some short-term rates negative.

While the Swiss franc pared some of its gains later in the session, in late New York trading it was still up 0.8 per cent against the euro at SFr1.1391 and 1.1 per cent against the dollar at SFr0.7886.

“The measures taken thus far by the Swiss National Bank against the strength of the Swiss franc are having an impact. Nevertheless, the Swiss franc remains massively overvalued,” the SNB said.

The Swiss government also announced that it would allocate SFr2bn to help consumers, exporters and the tourism industry, which have all been hit by the currency’s rise. “Measures … are being examined and will be rapidly implemented,” the government said in a statement, but did not provide any details.

Read Full Article…

America Is ‘Bankrupt Mickey Mouse Economy’

By Patrick Allen

America is a “Mickey Mouse economy” that is technically bankrupt, according to Jochen Wermuth, the Chief Investment Officer (CIO) and managing partner at Wermuth Asset Management.

“America today looks like Russia in 1998. Consumers, companies and the government are all highly indebted. America as a result is a bankrupt Mickey Mouse economy,” Wermuth told CNBC.

The comments followed news that the Fed was extending its quantitative easing program following what the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) described as a fall in the pace of growth in output and employment.

The Fed has spent the past three years on a route of aggressive rate cuts and purchases of trillions in various securities but it is running out of measures it can take, Pimco’s co-CEO Mohamed El-Erian told CNBC.

Wermuth is a fund manager heavily invested in Russia and says if the same International Monetary Fund (IMF) team that managed the financial crisis in the former super power in 1998 now turned up at the US Treasury, they would withdraw support for current US policy immediately.

“The big evil for the IMF in Russia in 1998 was the prospect of the central bank funding government debt. The Fed is now even buying mortgage-backed securities,” he noted.

“Even before the (Troubled Asset Relief Program) and the expansion of the Fed’s balance sheet, total US public and private debt as a percentage of GDP in the US stood at 290 percent, that figure is now far higher,” Wermuth added.

“US credit risk is huge and America has two options, either default or let the currency depreciate substantially against currencies such as the yuan and the rouble,” he explained.

“Last night’s news from the Fed simply creates the right conditions for dollar weakness and a reduction in US liabilities to foreign investors and governments,” Wermuth said.

Business and Technology 101

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