Provider cuts smart meter vulnerabilities in half

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Avoids patch cost blow-outs.

US-based utility Itron has reduced the number of security vulnerabilities in its products, including smart metres, by 50 percent by deploying an in-house build of Microsoft’s Security Development Lifecycle (SDL).

The company introduced Microsoft’s SDL – designed to increase software security assurance – in 2008 to monitor for potential security threats during the early design build phases of its utility products, and slash security remediation costs.

Lead security engineer Ido Dubrawsky said the strategy cut the number of vulnerabilities by a least half between 2008 and 2010.

“Utilities are conservative and are very concerned about vulnerabilities because they don’t just affect one device, but up to two million,” Dubrawsky said.

“It’s very expensive for a bug fix to be rolled out then; not just monetary, but there’s a hit to reputation.”

He said vulnerabilities were particularly expensive to fix and cost up to 75 percent more when made at the end of a product lifecycle.

The cost of fixes was exacerbated because the devices were expected to last for more than 20 years, Dubrawsky said.

"You can eliminate a vulnerability as much as possible, but even if you nailed everything you can think of, someone will think of some new attack," he said.

"You need to make sure whatever they do will have limited impact so [smart metres] don't roll over so easily."

Vulnerabilities, previously only labelled as ‘bugs’, were flagged by security teams and sent to coders for remediation.

Smart metres were considered to exist in “hostile environments” because customers had physical access to the devices. They were outfitted with tamper protection mechanisms and encryption to protect data.

Firmware vulnerability patches were delivered by utility operators over private wireless networks.

Darren Pauli travelled to Redmond as a guest of Microsoft. 

Copyright © SC Magazine, Australia


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