Analog meters that measure water, gas and electricity consumption are rapidly being replaced by automated meters that broadcast readings every 30 seconds for utility company employees to read as they walk or drive by with a receiver.
However, researchers said, anyone could receive the signals with about $1,000 worth of equipment available on the open market.
Because energy usage often drops to near zero when a house is empty, would-be housebreakers could identify which home owners are at work or away on vacation, the researchers said.
The research team created a receiver from readily available components that allowed them to pick up transmissions from automated meters 300 yards away and monitor almost 500 meters simultaneously, NewScientist.com reported Thursday.
There are easier ways to determine whether a house is empty, team member Marco Gruteser of Rutgers University said.
"But it's bad practice for meters to shout out that a house is vacant while police departments recommend keeping the lights on and the mailbox empty to make your house look occupied," Gruteser said.
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