Australia’s electricity grid increasingly vulnerable to hackers via solar panels, smart devices

The widespread adoption of rooftop solar panels and smart appliances is increasing the risks of cyber attacks on Australia’s electricity grid.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has heightened fears Moscow could take the war into cyberspace as it seeks to retaliate against the West over massive and unprecedented economic sanctions.

Two of Australia’s top cyber security advisors said the electricity networks of Russia’s adversaries would be firmly in sight as part of any attack and Australia was not immune. 

Their comments came amid warnings that Australia’s embrace of rooftop solar and technologies that communicate with the grid through the internet could make the country more vulnerable to hackers.

One of Australia’s leading energy regulators acknowledged the need for electricity networks to boost spending on cyber security to help safeguard the grid.

Alastair MacGibbon, the chief strategy officer at consultancy CyberCX and a former cyber security advisor to the federal government, said the risks were growing as the electricity system became more complex.

Cyber risks to grid ‘catastrophic’

“The more connected you are the more important cyber security is,” Mr MacGibbon said.

“We rely upon those connected devices that make up our society to function to the point now where there would literally be potential loss of life, potential catastrophic, cascading effects on the very functioning of society if we don’t get cyber security right.

“That sounds like a sky-is-falling type of statement.

“But it’s just a reality when our transport, our power, our water, our banking, the way we communicate with each other, literally the way everything functions, relies on a connected device.”

Last year, Queensland electricity generator CS Energy was almost brought to its knees after criminal Russian hackers hit the company with a devastating ransomware attack.

Such attacks involve hackers infiltrating a company’s computer systems and threatening to destroy or withhold critical information unless the victims pay a ransom.

Frequency of attacks ‘astonishing’

Cyber Security Cooperative Research Centre chief executive Rachael Falk said the CS Energy attack was a serious incident that almost disabled electricity provision in one of Australia’s biggest states.

But she said it wa far from isolated.

“It is a common story,” Ms Falk said.

“Ransomware is one of the biggest threats we have at the moment to our organisations and we know that particularly electricity and industrial companies are a main target.

“It’s the equivalent of having a tsunami through your business — it’s ruined everything, there is nothing left untouched, it’s devastating.”

According to Ms Falk, one of the most common ways for hackers to get into a company’s systems was through “phishing” emails, which might be disguised as bills or notifications.

She said cyber criminals were becoming increasingly sophisticated in their design of phishing emails.

They were also becoming more nimble.

“Cyber criminals are very adaptable,” Ms Falk said.

“During COVID, we saw a quick spike in mimicking official government emails, say about JobKeeper or JobSeeker.

“Within hours they had pivoted to mimic, and very convincingly mimic, official government emails with lures … in order to dupe people.”

Households are unwitting targets

Mr Edwell said the rapid uptake of solar and smart appliances, such as internet-enabled fridges and air conditioners, had been a boon for consumers, lowering bills and giving them greater autonomy over their needs.

Nevertheless, he said there were downsides from a security point of view, noting that households had potentially become entry points through which hackers could infiltrate the network.

“So, here in WA … we’ve got [one] third of households now with solar [photovoltaic cells],” he said.

“You have these two-way flows of generation back into the system.

“The challenge that network businesses have now is much greater than in the past.

“And the way they do that is to digitalise, automate.

“The more you have of that, the more your system is open to cyber-attack.

“We now have inverters in … households in Perth and surrounds all ultimately talking to the network business.

“That’s where the risk comes in.”

Abridged from: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-03-14/australia-electricity-grid-vulnerable-hackers-solar-panels-smart/100892044

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New documentary on 5G and health premieres: ‘Something is in the Air’

Is radiation from your mobile phone or telecommunication towers harmful for your health?  Or the environment?  

Are scientific conclusions tied to the interests of those who fund the studies?  How do governments make sure the radiation stays within healthy limits?  What happens to insects when 5G is fully rolled out?

These questions and many more are explored in Something is in the Air.  Interviewees include scientists such as Dariusz Leszczynski and Martin Pall.  This outstanding documentary provides a comprehensive overview of many of the important issues around the increasing saturation of our environment with pulsed radiofrequencies.

The 28-minute video can be accessed for free below or at the following link: https://youtu.be/Q89Gv2P3RH8

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‘Havana syndrome’ blamed on pulsed microwaves | BBC News

The UK’s national broadcaster, the BBC, has been told that there are now hundreds of reports of ‘Havana syndrome’, spanning every continent.  Described as a mysterious illness that has struck American diplomats and spies, it first emerged in Cuba in 2016. 

BBC security correspondent, Gordon Corera, says that, ‘It often started with a sound, one that people struggled to describe. “Buzzing”, “grinding metal”, “piercing squeals”, was the best they could manage.’  

Illustration by Gerry Fletcher, BBC News

A December 2020 report from the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine concluded, after considering other causes, that ‘directed, pulsed radio frequency energy appears to be the most plausible mechanism in explaining these cases…’.  The news release on the report described symptoms such as a perceived loud noise, ear pain, intense head pressure or vibration, dizziness, visual problems, and cognitive difficulties.  It stated that in some cases these suddenly occurred and that many sufferers still continue to experience these or other health problems.

SSMA notes that pulsed microwaves are also emitted by wireless smart meters.  In Australia, meters are often placed on the outside of bedroom walls, in close proximity to where people sleep.  As pointed out by Physicians for Safe Technology, the health effects experienced by diplomats and their families mirror those of individuals who have developed electrosensitivity (EHS) or electromagnetic illness following exposure to pulsed radiofrequency radiation from wireless devices.

To read the BBC News article, titled ‘Havana syndrome’ and the mystery of the microwaves’, go to: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-58396698

To read the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s December 2020 news release and report titled ‘An Assessment of Illness in U.S. Government Employees and Their Families at Overseas Embassies (2020), go here.

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Payphones are now free phones

Telstra announced earlier this month that charges no longer apply to local or national calls to a fixed line or Australian mobile number from payphones.  This means that anyone can now use one of the 15,000 payphones still remaining across Australia for free.

Telstra phone booth

Telstra CEO, Andrew Penn, said that a lot of Australians might not give payphones much thought.  Until there’s a natural disaster.  Or until they are in vulnerable circumstances, homeless or fleeing domestic violence.  SSMA pointed out in 2017, in our response to the Telecommunications Universal Service Obligation Inquiry, the folly of relying on wireless infrastructure for voice communications.  This is echoed by Mr Penn, who states, “I’ve seen queues of people waiting in line, coins at the ready, to use a payphone to call home and tell their family and friends they’re safe after a bushfire, a cyclone or some other natural disaster has taken the mobile network down”.

Removing charges at payphones also provides a lifeline to vulnerable Australians.  Salvation Army Major Brendan Nottle is quoted as saying that making payphones free is a “game changer” for people who can’t afford a mobile phone, or have had to leave dangerous domestic situations.

Payphones are provided by Telstra as part of its contract under the Universal Service Obligation (USO).  The USO legislation is aimed at providing all Australians with reasonable access to payphones and standard telephone services on an equitable basis. Telstra is paid $40 million per annum for maintaining the payphone network and $230 million per annum to maintain its copper network outside of the NBN fixed line footprint.

The USO runs through until 2032 but, in 2016, was made subject to a 12-month inquiry to reassess its value.  The Productivity Commission was tasked with examining the relevance of the USO, given the rollout of the National Broadband Network and the public’s uptake of competing technology.  Not surprisingly, other telecommunications companies, who are obliged to help fund the scheme, were keen to see its demise. 

The Productivity Commission’s final report echoed these sentiments, describing basic telephone and payphone services as “anachronistic and costly” and in need of being wound up by 2020.  Thankfully, this blinkered verdict from the Productivity Commission was not accepted by the government’s 2018 Regional Telecommunications Review committee, which noted that, “For many living in rural, and particularly remote Australia, Telstra’s fixed voice service is the only connection to the outside world if their internet service is not working”.  Unlike the Productivity Commission, this committee was prepared to take on board concerns raised by people and therefore recommended a measured and cautious approach to any changes to the USO arrangements.  In consequence, the government backtracked on its intention to scrap existing USO provisions by 2020.

SSMA applauds Telstra on its initiative to make payphones free.  Dropping payphone charges also looks like a win-win for Telstra, which will now be freed from the costs associated with coin collection. 

The importance of wired connections is finally being recognised; however, it is unfortunate that some of Telstra’s payphones host WiFi connectivity, which may render such phones unsuitable for use by people with EHS.  

It remains to be seen whether the recent death spiral that payphones have found themselves in will be reversed, now that payphones are free phones.  Given the inherent vulnerability of wireless communications, along with its contribution to electrosmog and carbon emissions, SSMA hopes that the introduction of free public phones will spur a revival in their usage!

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Capacity of electromagnetic fields to affect biological functions confirmed by WHO International EMF Project report

WHO South Africa National Report 2021

The World Health Organization (WHO) commenced the International EMF Project in 1996 to investigate health and environmental effects of electromagnetic fields between 0 and 300 GHz.  Australia is one of the participants in the Project and contributes financially to it.

Rather than exposing the truth about non-ionising radiation, the Project stands accused of being an industry pawn.  This makes the findings of a recent report, by the WHO International EMF Project South African reporting and advisory body, all the more telling.

The South Africa – National Report 2021 states that in South Africa, ‘the capacity of EMF to affect biological functions has been investigated and confirmed in reviews of the Ombudsman, Commission, Magistrate, and High Court’.  The report stresses the need for interventions to overcome the difficulties faced by people with disabilities, stating that this strategy shows promise not only for people with EHS complaints, but also has benefits in other spheres.

Radiofrequency emissions from smart meters are also discussed.  The report promotes the installation of hard-wired smart meters and mentions the benefits, such as increased data security, of this approach.

Points made in regard to current research include the statement that ‘Radiofrequency (RF) electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF) were shown to induce oxidative stress in cell cultures and in animal studies’, followed by an overview of the damage that this can lead to, including genome instability, impaired cognitive function and decreasing fertility.

The unusually large weak spot in the Earth’s magnetic field, called the South Atlantic Anomaly, is also noted. The report points out that particle radiation in this region can ‘knock out onboard computers and interfere with the data collection of satellites that pass through it’. 

As stated in the report, EMF represents one of the most common and fastest growing environmental influences and – depending on the context – this can result in notably positive or negative effects.

The report can be accessed at: https://www.emfsa.co.za/news/who-south-african-emf-project-and-optical-radiation-national-report-2021/

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Why are Victorians still being denied meter choice?

A document received from a Stop Smart Meters Australia (SSMA) member as a result of a Freedom of Information request has revealed that KPMG, the accounting firm engaged by the Victorian Government in 2019 to identify how to increase smart meter benefits, merely provided ‘observations’ for the government to consider in regard to whether metering competition should be introduced.

So why has the Victorian Government persisted in refusing electricity customers access to the national competition in metering rule?  This rule, which commenced in late 2017, although aimed at increasing smart meter penetration, brought consumer preference into the equation, even if that meant recognising the right to reject enabled communications.

The government claims that KPMG’s review, titled ‘AMI [Advanced Metering Infrastructure] Benefits Realisation Report’, found that ‘introducing contestability at this time is unlikely to unlock unrealised benefits to consumers and may diminish some of the benefits that have been realised’. 

However, the heavily redacted document appears to merely raise issues, rather than provide the Victorian Government with a ready-made position. 

The fact remains that Victorians are subjected to among the harshest smart meter policies in Australia.  Elsewhere, customers have the right to refuse a meter with wireless communications.  In other Australian jurisdictions, even if a smart meter has already been installed, customers are entitled to have their meter’s pulsed microwave transmissions disabled.

Long-suffering Victorians – even in instances where people have provided documentation from their doctor requesting this accommodation – have no such choices.

It is apparent that many of the smoke-and-mirror benefits originally promised to Victorians as a result of the mandatory rollout of smart meters never eventuated.  Instead, it is Victorian power distributors who have gained the most advantage – while electricity customers continue to pay for the Victorian Labor Government’s ill-considered smart meter initiative. 

This lamentable outcome was foreshadowed in both the Victorian Auditor-General’s 2009 audit of the rollout and in its subsequent 2015 audit.  The scathing 2009 report revealed that ‘The cost-benefit study behind the AMI decision was flawed and failed to offer a comprehensive view of the economic case for the project’.  The 2015 audit echoed these findings, stating that when the ‘government reviewed the program in 2011 it was clear there would be no overall benefit to consumers, but instead a likely cost of $319 million’.

So how have the supposed benefits to customers – that government was scrambling to try and identify after it committed to the rollout of smart meters in Victoria – panned out?  A number of SSMA committee members well recall attending an information session, hosted by the department who held responsibility at the time for the rollout (Department of Primary Industries), back in December 2011.  We were regaled with the mantra that customer interests would be placed front and centre.  In-home displays, which were going to reveal the nitty-gritty of home electricity usage, were touted as one of the technological wonders that would empower Victorians.

It seems Victorians have shown a healthy disdain for this ‘benefit’.  Page 77 of KPMG’s report reveals that a mere 11,000 in-home devices have been installed in Victoria.  Moreover, the functionality itself (which all customers have been forced to subsidise) has been bypassed by newer technologies.

Likewise, including the avoided cost of accumulation meters (p. 28) as a benefit is a decided stretch.  The ability to do remote reads, and ditch meter readers, is a major cost-saver for Victoria’s (largely) foreign-owned power distributors; however, it’s the electricity customers who end up paying through the nose for the technology (which goes far beyond just the meter itself as it also encompasses the networking and back-office technology required to support advanced metering infrastructure).  KPMG state the obvious on page 41, saying that ‘AMI meters have a shorter asset life than analogue meters’.  According to it, smart meters are depreciated over about seven years, although many of them last longer.  Compare this to our old sturdy electromechanical meters that lasted for decades! 

The decision to lock Victorian customers into mesh smart meter networks, rather than providing access to the 3G/4G networks being rolled out in much of the rest of Australia, is also regrettable.  According to KPMG (p. 7), Victoria’s mesh AMI network is outdated technology. 

Unlike 3G/4G meters, which utilise mobile phone communication networks, mesh networks rely on a multitude of nearby mesh network smart meters (bolstered by repeaters or relays in low-density areas) to ferry customer data from meter to meter, with access points providing the funnel for the communications to and from towers.  The interconnectedness of mesh networking topology has provided electricity distributors with a convenient reason to object to the introduction of more choice-friendly meters.  However, this doesn’t absolve the Victorian Government from responsibility for enacting policy measures that preclude the disablement of communications in smart meters; WA’s state-owned electricity provider, Western Power, allows customers to have the communications device removed from the meter at any time, despite also having installed a mesh network.

Victoria’s Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), which is the latest department responsible for electricity smart meter policy, claimed, in a response to SSMA dated 30 December 2020, that its refusal to publish KPMG’s report was because ‘Other options to increase benefits for consumers are still under government consideration, therefore the report will not be made publicly available’.

So what are these possible benefits that DELWP is envisaging it might pull out of a hat?  Given the number of blanked-out pages in the document obtained by means of the Freedom of Information request, SSMA can only guess.  However, what is obvious, is that the Victorian Government has already had a staggering fifteen years, since it decided in 2006 that ‘smart meters would be installed in all residential and small business premises’ (p. 20), to come up with benefits for electricity customers.  Yet here we are, in 2021, and, according to KPMG (p. 15), ‘many of the originally anticipated benefits of AMI remain unrealised’.

What is even more obvious, is that ALL of the many cost-benefit studies over the years, have failed to factor in the crippling costs incurred by the cohort of Victorians affected by the pulsed wireless emissions from smart meters.  People have lost their health, their livelihoods, the ability to sleep in their own bedrooms, as well as sometimes being entirely forced out of their own homes.  SSMA has also heard of people spending tens of thousands of dollars shielding their homes, undergoing unnecessary medical investigations, or even, as a last resort, moving out of Victoria.

DELWP’s claim that KPMG undertook extensive stakeholder engagement, in its review of AMI contestability, is a joke.  Clearly, if the exercise was to have had any validity whatsoever, feedback from the Victorians who have had their lives devastated in consequence of the rollout of smart meters, should have been canvassed. This did not occur.

And what about the views of internet safety experts and customers savvy enough to realise the significant security and privacy issues created by smart meters?  Given the explosion in malicious cyber attacks that the world is witnessing, surely KPMG’s report should have highlighted the increased risk posed by wireless smart meter networks.

KPMG states, on page 44, that all consumers should benefit from AMI, irrespective of their choices and situations.  Instead, all Victorian electricity customers have been financially penalised in consequence of the rollout of smart meters.  The Victorian Government has also risen to new heights of callousness in its policy of heartlessly stonewalling and ignoring the plight of those amongst us living with disability as a result of exposure to pulsed microwave emissions from smart meters.

When will our Big Brother Victorian Government finally allow Victorians the same choices afforded to other Australians?

You can download and read the (22 MB) AMI Benefits Realisation Report here.

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Check out the No5G Party!

The No5G Party, an Australian political party focused on safeguarding health from electromagnetic radiation, has released a 2.3 minute promotional video.

Please share!

The No5G Party is Australia’s only political party whose platform solely centres on regulation of 5G and associated technologies, and the encouragement of wired solutions.

Another Australian political party, the Health Australia Party (HAP), also includes in its policies a commendable initiative in regard to electromagnetic radiation (EMR) pollution.  (See policy 3.3.1.)

Hopefully, more Australian political parties will adopt sensible policies that put human health and welfare before profit and the interests of multinational organisations.

Please let us know if you come across any other Australian political parties with noteworthy smart meter or EMR policies!

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Green Party of California Statement on 5G

The Green Party of California calls on [U.S.] Federal, State, and local representatives to:

1) first and foremost, apply the Precautionary Principle to the development and deployment of 5G, as a philosophical and legal lens to all innovations with the potential for causing harm and to;

2) require robust and independent scientific environmental review of 4G/5G wireless exposure and to halt FCC satellite networks on earth and in space in light of new findings on climate, pollution, and health impacts and to;

3) reduce exposures per the As Low As Reasonably Achievable principle and allow for local control over the deployment of 4G/5G and future generations of these technologies’ small cell installations and to;

4) move forward with safer alternative technologies to 5G, following the lead of other municipalities and to;

5) adopt recommendations such as those put forth by the New Hampshire Commission on 5G in its comprehensive final report citing recent science on non-ionizing radiation health and 5G environmental impacts.

Green Party of California
Issued February 1st, 2021. (Emphases and link added.)

To read the complete Green Party of California Statement on 5G Wireless Technology Environmental Oversight, go to:  https://www.cagreens.org/green-party-california-statement-5g-wireless-technology-environmental-oversight

SSMA commends the Green Party of California for its exemplary policy on 5G. We challenge the Australian Greens to take a leaf out of the same book. The Precautionary Principle should be applied to the deployment of ALL wireless technology!

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Environmental sensitivities have made it to the second round of the disability access to premises review!

Congratulations to everyone who submitted feedback, during the discovery phase of the Disability (Access to Premises – Building) Standards review, about the difficulties that people living with environmental sensitivities have in accessing public buildings.  It paid off – we’ve been heard!  

The outcome of the discovery phase, which concluded on 30 November 2020, is a consultation paper that draws on the findings of the initial stage of the review.  This paper asks for more detailed feedback.

Environmental sensitivities have been included as one of the seven themes identified in the consultation paper.

The Premises Standards review consultation paper defines environmental sensitivities as ‘Adverse effects or chronic condition whereby a person has symptoms when exposed to low level of chemical or other environmental and communication agents, such as Wi-Fi, in the built environment’.

Appendix A (p. 20) of the consultation paper provides a graphical representation of the seven key themes: it shows that environmental sensitivities were discussed by ten per cent of submissions in the discovery phase.  According to a more detailed breakdown on p. 23, which identifies sub-themes, electromagnetic hypersensitivity led the way at 5.3%, followed by cognitive disability (2.9%) and multiple chemical sensitivity (1.3%).

The Premises Standards team is now asking for feedback on the consultation paper.  This is due by 16 April 2021.

We need to identify changes in order to improve the Premises Standards!  This will assist the team to write a report by mid-2021 for the Australian Government.

As pointed out in SSMA’s post on the initial phase of the Premises Standards review, the existing Premises Standards make NO provision for people who are electrically sensitive.  They also make no allowance for people who have multiple chemical sensitivity, which often goes hand-in-hand with electrical sensitivity.

This means that the National Construction Code, which contains these standards, fails to take into account the needs of people living with these conditions.

There is currently no requirement for public buildings to provide safe access for people living with environmental sensitivities – despite Australia having a Disability Discrimination Act which provides a very broad definition of disability.

We need to ensure that the Premises Standards provide people living with electromagnetic hypersensitivity dignified, equitable, cost-effective and reasonably achievable access to public buildings.  We also need to make sure that people working within the building industry have a clear understanding of their legal obligations in this regard.

Again, the Premises Standards team has made it easy for everyone to participate in this review.  It’s up to you if you want to take an online survey, upload a written submission, video or audio, talk to the team on the phone, send your feedback by email or mail.  You can choose to make your submission confidential.

The consultation paper asks you to consider questions about each of the themes that have been identified, but you are welcome to only provide input on your preferred topics – even if these haven’t been included in the scope.  Three of the questions are specific to the environmental sensitivities theme.  Please provide examples of issues that you have encountered and give possible solutions that might be addressed through better design and construction of public buildings.  Let’s work towards making our schools, libraries, hospitals, auditoriums, holiday accommodation and other buildings that fall within the ambit of the Premises Standards accessible to all people living with disability!

To find out more and participate in the Premises Standards review, go to the consultation hub at: https://consult.industry.gov.au/premises-standards-review-team/2020-premises-standards-review-consultation-paper/.

If you would like to view the Disability (Access to Premises – Buildings) Standards 2010, which are currently in force, go here.

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No5G Party registered as a Federal political party!

The No5G Party was officially registered as a political party by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) on 5 January 2021.  It intends to nominate and endorse candidates for elected public office in Commonwealth, state and territory parliaments and local government bodies across all Australian jurisdictions.

The party calls for a moratorium on 5G and associated technology until such technologies are proven safe to human health, flora, fauna and property.  The No5G party promotes legislative reform, in order to ensure Australian safety standards reflect true medical consensus.

The No5G Party has developed extensive policies and objectives in support of its goal of ensuring that the precautionary principle prevails.

Already boasting over 1000 members, the No5G Party is seeking to make the No5G Party the largest membership-based political party in Australia, saying that this will “give us a strong and unified voice that cannot be ignored”.

To find out more, go to: https://no5gparty.org.au/

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