Advanced Metering Infrastructure Architecture and Components

The advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) is typically structured into a bunch of networks and composed of a few major components. Figure 1 provides an overview of all components and most networks. It is made up of the Meter, the Collector and of the server systems at the distribution system operator (DSO) or metering company side.

The subsequent sectionswill briefly introduce the major components of the AMI.

Figure 1: Advanced Metering Infrastructure Networks and Components

Head-end System
The head-end system (HES), also known as meter control system, is located within a metering company network. In most cases the metering company is the responsible DSO. The HES is directly communicating with the meters. Therefore, the HES is located in some demilitarized zone (DMZ) since services and functionality will be provided to the outside.
There is much more infrastructure at the DSO or metering company side. The collected data will be managed within a metering data management system (MDM) which also maps data to the relevant consumer. Depending on the automation level, the metering data will have influence on the DSO actions in order to balance the grid.
Exposing the HES to consumers enables some significant threats to the DSO. For example, an adversary getting hold of the HES could read all consumer data. Moreover, one could control meters or could manipulate usage data or generate alerts in order to disturb the DSO operations or at least trigger the computer incident response team (CIRT) and maybe force the DSO to backup to some business continuity plan (BCP) while analysing and recovering the HES.

The collector, also known as concentrator or gateway serves as communication node for the HES. Depending on the infrastructure the collector could be a meter itself. Its primary function is to interface between the HES and the meters and/or other collectors within its neighbourhood – the neighbourhood area network (NAN).
Not only the head-end but also the collector exposes threats. The collector is physically exposed to adversaries. Moreover, it has a trust binding to the HES and the NAN side and is thus privileged to communicate with either end. Adversaries might exploit the fact in order to attack the HES. Additionally, on the NAN side, adversaries might impersonate the collector to setup a man-in-the-middle scenario or to invoke arbitrary commands at the meters.

The meter is installed at consumer premises. When integrated with a collector, it directly communicates to the HES. As a meter it either communicates with the collector or may serve as a relay in order to route packets between nearby meters and the collector. Some meters provide an interface for appliances. With retail consumer that network is known as the home area network (HAN). Meters do also provide local diagnostic ports for manual readout, installation and maintenance tasks as shown in figure 2.
From an attackers perspective the meter is the entry point to building automation, DER and usage data. But the meter is also a relevant part of the smart grid and under no circumstances should its manipulation allow critical influence or affect the availability of the grid or parts of it.

The infrastructure consist of several networks of which all could rely on absolutely different media and a multitude of protocols. In total, three networks are commonly described when referring to the AMI. The WAN, NAN and HAN.

Wide Area Network
The WAN does connect a meter or collector to the HES. The WAN is sometimes also referred to as the backhaul network. Communication on the WAN link is mostly Internet protocol (IP) based and does commonly rely on standard information technology (IT) media and technology stacks such as fibre optic cables (FOC), digital subscriber line (DSL), general packet radio service (GPRS), multi-protocol label switching (MPLS), power line carrier (PLC) or some sort of private network. A brief overview on PLC for WAN side communication is provided in [1]
The CEN/CENELEC/ ETSI Smart Meter Co-ordination Group (SMCG) does not identify a specific protocol but proposes to rely on “secure and non proprietary protocols and communication platforms” [2] for bulk transmission from collectors that bundle a large number of meters.

Neighbourhood Area Network
The NAN connects meters and collectors. Typical NAN devices are electricity, gas, water or heat meters. organisations sometimes refer to the NAN as local metrological network (LMS) [3], field area network (FAN) [4] or the metering LAN [5].
Although standards such as the IEEE 802.15.4 [6], [7] based ZigBee profiles are gaining momentum, the industry and regulators seam to struggle on a common standard. Utilities among the European union nations seem to prefer the meter bus standard for NAN communication [3] although the ENISA does not list [4] the meter bus as a NAN protocol.

Home Area Network
Depending on the consumer type the HAN could also be named as building area network (BAN) or industrial area network (IAN). Whatever its name is, the purpose of the HAN is to integrate additional gas, water or heat meters. The HAN could allow for intelligent building automation and does also allow the integration of DERs with the smart grid.

Figure 2: Home Area Network and Local Bus Blueprint

To optimize consumption during peak hours a utility might for example decide not to entirely turn off but to throttle large heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) appliances to balance the grid. For that purpose, consumers will be required to grant utilities or a third-party supplier access to their appliances. However, intelligent control does not necessarily require the intervention of an external part. Thus, an intelligent HVAC might decide to throttle automatically based on the real-time pricing information provided by the utility.
Meters in the US largely focus on ZigBee for HAN communication [8]. Profiles for home automation and smart energy are specified in [9], [10]. The Europe based open metering system (OMS) group is pushing a specification that relies on M‑Bus whereby the wireless M‑Bus stack is compatible with the KNX specifications [11]. KNX is very popular in home automation.

Local Bus
Common interfaces for diagnostic purposes are provided as two or three-wire serial lines, current loop or as an optical interface [12], [13].

[1] M. Rafiei and S. M. Eftekhari, A practical smart metering using combination of power line communication (PLC) and WiFi protocols, In Proceedings of 17th Conference on Electrical Power Distribution Networks (EPDC), 2012, pp. 1–5, May 2012
[2] Smart Meters Co-Ordination Group. Standardization mandate to CEN, CENELEC and ETSI in the field of measuring instruments for the development of an open architecture for utility meters involving communication protocols enabling interoperability M/441: Final Report v0.7. Dec. 2009
[3] Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) Germany. Technische Richtlinie BSI-TR-03109-1: Anforderungen an die Interoperabilität der Kommunikationseinheit eines intelligenten Messsystems, v0.5. 2012
[4] ENISA. Smart Grid Security: Annex I. General Concepts and Dependencies with ICT. 2012
[5] EN 13575-1:2002: Communication system for meters and remote reading of meters – Part 1: Data exchange
[6] IEEE Std 802.15.4:2011. IEEE Standard for Local and metropolitan area networks – Part 15.4: Low-Rate Wireless Personal Area Networks (LR-WPANs)
[7] C. Bennet and D. Highfill. Networking AMI Smart Meters. In Proceedings of Energy 2030 Conference, 2008. ENERGY 2008. IEEE. pp 1-8. Nov. 2008 (DOI 10.1109/ENERGY.2008.4781067)
[8] V. Aravinthan, V. Namboodiri, S. Sunku and W. Jewell. Wireless AMI Application and Security for Controlled Home Area Networks. In Proceedings of Power and Energy Society General Meeting, 2011 IEEE. pp. 1-8. Jul. 2011 (DOI 10.1109/PES.2011.6038996)
[9] ZigBee Alliance. Home Automation Public Application Profile. ZigBee Profile: 0x0104 Revision 26, Version 1.1, Feb. 2010
[10] ZigBee Alliance. Smart Energy Profile Specification. ZigBee Profile: 0x0109, Revision 16, Version 1.1, Mar. 2011
[11] EN50090-4-1:2004. Home and Building Electronic Systems (HBES) Part 4-1: Media independent layers – Application layer for HBES Class 1
[12] EN 13575-6:2008: Communication system for meters and remote reading of meters – Part 6: Local Bus
[13] EN 62056-21:2002, Electricity metering – Data exchange for meter reading, tariff and load control – Part 21: Direct local data exchange

The Metering Infrastructure

I have provided introductions to the electrical and specifically the smart grid earlier on. Today I will briefly introduce the advanced metering infrastructure – its purpose, benefits and issues. Moreover, different approaches to metering and some ongoing security standards and specifications processes and organizations will be referenced.

Purpose of Smart Meters
The reason for smart meters is to enable the operators to improve their infrastructure towards a smarter grid and its six characteristics outlined. A smart meter has several advantages over a traditional mechanical meter. A smart meter does lots more [1], [2] than just providing detailed power consumption data to the operator. Primarily, a smart meter can significantly support the distribution system operator (DSO) to balance the network load and improve reliability.

Thus, a smart meter does not only lower manual reading cost but also enables to more efficiently estimate the load on the generators. It helps to more efficiently integrate distributed energy resources (DER) and helps to monitor the distribution network in order to identify power quality (PQ) issues, misrouted energy flows or fire alerts in case a consumer outage is being detected. Moreover, a meter could be used to push real-time pricing information to the consumer in order to allow appliances in the local network to optimize their power consumption according to the current rates. During an emergency, a meter could allow to disconnect consumers from the power grid. A meter could limit the consumption to a specified amount or could enforce pre-payment for defaulting consumers.

Yet, at time of writing, the effective use cases implemented heavily differ from operator to operator. Whereby all of them support at least remote meter reading. However, a security analysis should take all potential use cases into consideration since it is likely that firmware and hardware is being enhanced to support additional use cases in the near future.

Meter Reading vs. Metering Infrastructure
Typically, literature differs between advanced meter reading (AMR) and the advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) whereby AMR is to be seen as a subset of AMI [3].
AMR provides the metering company with usage data only. AMR does not allow for remote controlled action or advanced collection of power information. Thus, one-way communication from meter to the metering company is sufficient for that approach.
AMI will allow for remote initiated actions and will therefore require a two-way communication protocol. Though the border between the two approaches fades since remote initiated reading will also require for a two-way channel in AMR setups.

North American vs. European Implementations
The US as well as the European countries have developed absolutely independent implementations of the AMI. Nevertheless, the key drivers and business needs are exactly the same. Comparing the two, the preferred communication protocols in either continent are not compatible with each other.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA) respectively the European Committee for Standardization, the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization and the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (CEN/CENELEC/ETSI) mandated by the European Commission drive very similar projects to provide security guidance [4], [5] for smart grid and metering implementations. However, the guidance neither specifically requests for nor does it recommend the use of specific protocols.

[1] G. N. Sorebo and M. C. Echols. Smart Grid Security: An End-to-End View of Security in the New Electrical Grid. CRC Press. 2011 (ISBN 978-1-4398-5587-4)
[2] ENISA. Smart Grid Security: Annex I. General Concepts and Dependencies with ICT. 2012
[3] E.D. Knapp. Industrial Network Protocols, AMI and the Smart Grid. In Industrial Network Security: Securing Critical Infrastructure Networks for Smart Grid, SCADA, and Other Industrial Control Systems. Syngress. 2011 (ISBN 978-1-59749-645-2)
[4] NIST. Security Profile for Advanced Metering Infrastructure. v2.0, Jun. 2010
[5] ENISA. Smart Grid Security: Recommendations for Europe and Member States. Jul. 2012

Compass Security eröffnet Niederlassung in Berlin

Die Compass Security AG unternimmt die nächsten Wachstumsschritte auf europäischer Ebene. Unter der Firmierung Compass Security Deutschland GmbH ( hat das Team rund um Marco Di Filippo (bisher Regional Director Germany) am 01. Januar 2013 ihre Arbeit in Berlin aufgenommen.

Die hohe Nachfrage aus dem Raum Deutschland veranlasste die Compass Security AG, ihre Aktivitäten sowie die Kundennähe vor Ort weiter zu verstärken. Unter der Geschäftsführung von Marco Di Filippo und Walter Sprenger liegt das Kerngeschäft der deutschen Dependance nach dem Vorbild der Muttergesellschaft darin, Unternehmen im Dienste der ICT-Sicherheit rund um Präventions- und Schutzmassnahmen für deren technologische Infrastruktur zu unterstützen.

Dies ist der erste Schritt der Compass Expansions Strategie, welche durch die Erschliessung von neuen Märkten bei gleichbleibendem Service Portfolio definiert wird. Die Compass Security will weltweit an Kundennähe gewinnen und sich bei internationalen Projekten profilieren.

Kontakt Berlin
Compass Security Deutschland GmbH
Tauentzienstrasse 18
DE-10789 Berlin

Tel. +49 (0)30 2100253-0
Fax + 49 (0)30 2100253-69

Why does Compass Security recommend HSTS?

Secure web communications using HTTPS isn’t anything fancy anymore these days. It ensures traffic from a user to your web application cannot be eavesdropped or tampered with, given it has been set up securely using SSL/TLS. But, do you trust your web application’s code to entirely disregard unencrypted requests? Are you sure your Apache/IIS is configured properly to redirect http to https all the time? How can you be sure your users, which never bother typing in explicitly the https:// part of your URL, won’t be affected by the SSLstrip attack?

Well, sometimes you may be pretty confident about your server configuration – but there are certainly occasions where you simply can’t. So, wouldn’t it be great if the user’s browser could be told to refuse unencrypted channels for a domain at all? And even remember that decision for a defined time span?
This is where HSTS comes into play. That acronym stands for “HTTP Strict Transport Security” and defines a fairly new HTTP response header that forces a user agent to solely interact with the server using HTTPS. It has been officially approved by IESG on 2nd October 2012 and is specified in RFC 6797. Let’s have a look at it:

Strict-Transport-Security: max-age=2628000

That response header causes a modern browser with HSTS support to never ever interact with the server in an unencrypted way for one month. So, in case your web application accidentally issues a non-https redirect (or anything else happens that would cause a non-https connection – e.g. a JavaScript or CSS resource loaded over http from the same domain), the user’s browser would simply use https instead. This web security policy mechanism can be enhanced by specifying the optional subdomains flag. That way, and not very surprisingly, all accordant sub domains are also put into the HSTS scope:

Strict-Transport-Security: max-age=2628000; includeSubDomains

Setting the max-age value to a month is the default recommendation, but this parameter should take the common usage pattern of your website into account. If your users connect themselves only once a month, you might want to extend the max-age period to avoid having the HSTS value expire.

Downsides? Sure.

The very initial request to a HSTS web site may still be http and thus exposed to a standard Man-In-The-Middle attack (Bootstrap MITM). In that phase, an attacker could tamper with the HSTS response header and inject invalid subdomains (DoS), disable HSTS (set max-age to 0) or poison the HSTS cache of the user agent otherwise. However, wrongly stored HSTS policies can be simply removed by clearing the local browser cache.

Another downside is rather an organizational one: once you have pushed an HSTS policy to your clients, you are no longer as free to switch back to non-https connections, of course. Their browser is configured to ignore http for the time span you have defined. Simple fix: Push a temporary policy with ‘max-age=0’ to disable it again. Also, the process of keeping your certificates valid must be properly implemented. With HSTS, there is zero tolerance for problems with respect to SSL certificates as the user is no longer able to bypass SSL warnings and “click through”.

Use it? Yes!

The advantages of HSTS clearly outweigh its downsides. It even defeats some issues it wasn’t planned for: HSTS helps in fixing mixed-content issues, defends against the cookie value being sent in plain text (in case you don’t set its ‘secure’ flag), and it may even reduce network latency by saving superfluous http-to-https redirects. Unfortunately, not all browsers support it yet, most prominently Internet Explorer. However, given HSTS was just officially approved, Microsoft will probably need to introduce it soon.