Hackers and thieves don’t have to steal your household Wi-Fi signal, or hack your smartphone or laptop to get your personal information. All they need to do is check your utility meter!

More than one-third of meters now use something called wireless automatic meter-reading technology.  So meter-readers can just drive by to get the number of gallons or kilowatt hours you used, and provide an accurate, up-to-date bill. In fact, a single driver can read an entire neighborhood in minutes.  And no one has to worry about locked gates or unfriendly dogs.

But thieves can also intercept those signals. Why? Because they’re not encrypted! In fact, researchers using a laptop and some inexpensive pieces of equipment sat in one central location, and were able to view information from more than 500 households. 

If you’re thinking, “Who’d want to know how much electricity or water I’m using?” The answer is, “Anyone planning to rob you.” Daily usage spikes could be used to figure out when you get up, when you leave for work, and when you get home and a dramatic drop might indicate you’re on vacation.

Right now, there’s nothing you can do to secure your information. But the researchers are working on a way to encrypt the data. And they hope the experiment will convince utility companies that they need to make changes to existing meters.