Blackout fears soar over Chinese smart meters in UK

China's regime trying to 'erase every trace' of protest says expert

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Experts have raised the alarm over Chinese makes of smart meters that can reportedly be remotely switched off, sparking blackouts fears. A quarter of a million Britons reportedly own smart meters made by a firm with connections to the Chinese Government, which experts say have the potential to “destroy” the national energy grid. Kaifa Technology UK is controlled by a subsidiary of the Beijing-owned China Electronics Corporation (CEC), and the firm has struck deals with at least three British energy companies. Worringly, the Kaifa Technology smart meters have a feature that allows them to be turned off remotely. 

The result of this would be that a households regular energy supply could be switched off, which experts have warned is a “fundamental concern”.  Digital smart meters use a wireless national communication network, sending details of a household’s energy usage directly to a supplier. The meters’ off switches, which are digitally operated, allow suppliers to remotely disconnect homes from gas or electricity supplies. 

If these are targeted by hackers trying to crash the grid, it appears as though part of the grid could come offline as a result, which would trigger huge blackouts

Nick Hunn, Chief Technology Officer of WiFore Consulting, told Energy Live News: “It is difficult to assess how much of an added threat Chinese smart meters are, but there is a fundamental concern that smart meters can be remotely turned off.

“It’s a feature that was never needed but the specification of the GB smart meters was driven by what the energy suppliers wanted (which was easier control of their personal fiefdoms) rather than what was needed for the grid and their customers. 

“At the time, nobody seemed to understand that millions of smart meters would become attack vectors for the national energy infrastructure. Whether that will happen is moot, but it’s an incredibly naive approach to security.”

And according to experts, there could be more than three million of these smart meters rolled out across the country in the coming months. Mr Hunn said that this is almost like handing a “loaded gun” to China, adding that it shows a “frightening lack of complacency if they think the system can’t be hacked”, he told the Daily Mail. 

This comes after security chiefs from the UK and the US warned over the growing threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party to British and American interests in a joint address. More recently, GCHQ head Sir Jeremy Fleming warned that Beijing has been using technology to secure control domestically and overseas.

He stressed that the Chinese state is attempting to create “client economies and governments” by exporting its technology to countries around the world, warning that these countries risked “mortgaging the future” by purchasing technology from China with “hidden costs”. 

Sir Jeremy added that we should “be really clear on the areas of technology where we will require additional safeguards”. But a spokeswoman for the Chinese foreign ministry said: “China’s financial and technological development is aimed at making a better life for the Chinese people, and is not aimed at anyone and does not constitute a threat. Harbouring a China threat theory and provoking confrontation is both detrimental to others and harmful to oneself.”

According to the International Cyber Policy Centre, the CEC is a “very high risk” as it is one of China’s major producers of military electronics. And unlike the UK, the US has blocked the use of Chinese smart meters.

But concerns around these smart meters in the UK are nothing new. Back in 2016, Mr Hunn gave evidence to a parliamentary inquiry on smart metering, where he warned that “if anyone was able to hack the system, it would not just have the effect of blacking out a million houses, it would blow out a part of the grid”. 

In the event that a significant proportion of meters were switched off remotely at the same time, the national grid would be generating far more energy than customers would be using. This would result in surging demand and cause damage, potentially leaving entire cities without power.  

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Given the alleged threat posed by China according to Western security officials, there may be fears that China could be inclined to use this feature against Britain.

Nigel Inkster, a former director of operations and intelligence at MI6, said back in 2016: “A Chinese corporation is always going to have to do what the state tells it when the crunch comes, although these corporations really do want to be proper international corporations and operate on this basis.”

However, the Government has made clear that all smart meters operating in the UK are subject to “robust security standards”. And Michael Wu, head of Kaifa UK, told the Daily Mail that the accusations were not “an honest reflection of our company” and a result of an “adversarial political narrative”. 

This also comes as National Grid has warned that the UK could enter periods of planned blackouts between 4pm and 7pm in the “deepest, darkest” winter evenings in January and February if supplies from Europe continue to plummet as a result of Vladimir Putin’s gas cuts. 

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