PROTECTING ELECTRIC METER TO
STOP POWER THEFT
-Rajesh Kumar Banka
Loss of revenue due to energy theft each year is a
subject of serious debate. The International
Utilities Revenue Protection Assn (IURPA), a group
of some 2000 representatives of over 400 utility
companies worldwide, estimate energy theft in some
countries is staggeringly high. For example 10-20%
in Mexico, 10-16% in South America and 20-40% in
Some customers tamper with their service connections
or meters to avoid paying their fair share. Covering
these losses drives up everyone's cost of service.
But the problem does more than just increase the
cost of electricity, tampering with an electric
meter is dangerous. Attempts to bypass or tamper
with electric meters can result in serious injury,
shock, electrocution, fire, explosion or death. It
poses serious danger to the thief, to people living
nearby and to the utility employees. Meter tampering
also constitutes a theft offence, which could result
in criminal sanctions, including fines and/or
Revenue protection and loss prevention are hot
topics now-a-days in the utility industry. For the
first time the Finance Minister, Mr Yashwant Sinha,
went into such details as the need for 100%
metering, commercialisation of distribution,
elimination of power theft and energy audit. At a
recent meeting of chief ministers, several actions
were identified, including the implementation of an
effective management information system and
elimination of power thefts in the next two years.
Full metering and preventing energy theft are the
most essential elements of any process of reforms to
"Put revenue protection on the front burner so
you're not forgotten" said Mr. Michael J Szilvagyi,
Chairperson of IURPA. "It's important to be sure
your revenue protection program continues to be
solid." Mr. Szilvagyi believes a healthy revenue
protection program is vital to any utility's bottom
line. "For utilities to be competitive, they must
use all their resources to effectively bill and
collect revenue. You cannot be competitive if you're
losing too much to theft, fraud and uncollectibles.
Since utilities can no longer rely on rate increases
to offset losses, revenue protection becomes even
more critical. Revenue recovery adds to shareholder
value and the safety of the company's energy
delivery system. It's like any other business, if
you let dollars walk out the door, you're not going
to be competitive." he said.
With the prevailing trend of theft of electrical
energy going on unabated in the disguise of system
loss, it will only be natural that increased
generation of electricity will be corresponded to by
a pro-rata incumbent in theft of electricity. Even
it may not remain out of possibility that pro-rata
quantum of electricity which is going to be added to
the national grid may also be swallowed up by way of
theft, as the experience of the past few years leads
us to the painful fact that on the issue of theft of
electricity, we are very much within a black hole.
Power Line Research estimates T&D losses across the
country are as much as 30 to 40 percent. The Delhi
Vidyut Board (DVB) study provides evidence that most
of these so-called T&D losses are plain and simple
theft. Powerline also estimate that at least
one-half and perhaps as much as two-thirds of T&D
losses can be attributed to theft. The SEBs are thus
losing at least 70 billion units and perhaps as much
as 100 billion units due to electric theft. At
current tariff this translates into a revenue loss
of Rs.110 to Rs.160 billions. Even if half of the
theft can be checked and prevented by an improved
tamper evident meter sealing system and dedicated
intelligence, most of the SEBs would be in profit.
According to a report, the trouble is that the most
SEBs are so cash-strapped, they simply do not have
the money to invest in better meters. They lose
money because of meter that are easy to tamper with.
But they cannot install tamper-proof meters as they
do not have the money.
But the harsh fact is that lot of emphasis is given
in selection of modern technology meters but no
adequate attention has been paid on the tamper
protecting security devices as yet. A mere piece of
recycled plastic device named as plastic seals are
employed as security seal which are useless whereas
advanced range of tamper evident and barrier seals
are available to protect the meters from being
tamper. Even after replacement by third generation
latest technology meter there will be need for
reliable and advanced technology tamper evident
seals and trained inspection as well as intelligence
system. With a fraction of paise one and appropriate
intelligence system in place, the problem of energy
theft can be reduced drastically, smoothly and
easily even with traditional and conventional
What's the pay-off for paying attention to the
little stuff? So much energy theft could be
prevented by understanding seal basics and
organizational objectives, choosing the right seal
for its application, optimising the seal's use,
adequately protecting the seal and seal data,
providing effective training and support for meter
seal inspectors, and honestly evaluating
vulnerabilities. Just follow the procedures and
you'll increase your revenue collections
Tamper-indicating seals are often used to help
detect theft and diversion, as well as meter
tampering. Unlike locks, seals are not meant to
physically impede unauthorized access or entry.
Instead, they are meant to record that tampering
The good news about seals is that if used correctly,
they can be very effective at detecting tampering.
The bad news is that using them correctly can take a
lot of work. You can’t mindlessly slap seals on a
meter and expect them to magically solve all your
theft and tampering problems.
Many seal users are remarkably vague about what they
are trying to accomplish. You can’t use seals
effectively in a vacuum. You must undertake a fair
amount of introspection. Many seal users--in and
outside the utility industry--are not much clear on
exactly what their tamper detection program is all
about. It is not possible to optimize your chances
for tamper detection without a thorough
understanding of the specific goals of your security
program, your likely adversaries, the personnel and
resources you are willing to devote to the task, the
consequences of a security failure, and what you
will do when you find evidence of tampering. These
issues need to be reviewed on a regular basis.
Choosing an appropriate seal is complicated. In my
experience, most seal users (commercial or
government) choose seals based on the following
criteria, in order of decreasing priority:
Attributes such as vulnerability
to attack, and tamper-detection reliability often
don’t even make the list! This is probably because
they are much harder to evaluate.
After needs are fully analyzed, security managers
should choose a seal that is appropriate for the
application and desired level of security. In
extreme (but all too common) cases, seal users
become so obsessed with the unit cost of a seal,
that they ignore everything else. Costs associated
with additional hardware, seal training, paperwork,
installation, inspection, and removal can be far
more important than the seal purchase price. Not to
mention the costs of undetected theft!
It is important to choose tamper-indicating products
carefully. To be effective, all seals must have a
tag-like "fingerprint," or unique identifier, such
as a serial number and coding. Otherwise, an
adversary can simply cut off the seal and replace it
with an unused one.
Many seal users are careful to safeguard their seals
prior to use but careless about disposing of used
seals and seal parts. This sloppiness can be
exploited by an adversary intent on learning about
an organization's seal program, getting sample seals
and components to practice defeat techniques, and
counterfeiting seals, seal parts, serial numbers, or
Once a seal has completed its function, it should be
protected or thoroughly destroyed. Punching a hole
in the seal or cutting it in half is not sufficient.
In practical, the security manager should consider
storing used seals for possible future forensic
analysis when new attacks or problems are
The single and most critical issue associated with
seal security is the inspection process. Some seal
users and potential users don't understand that
seals can only detect tampering if they are
inspected. (Locks, in contrast, provide security
even when ignored.) Seal inspection is can sometimes
be done automatically by electronics or a computer
system, but for most seals, the inspection is
required to be performed manually.
Even a simple, inexpensive seal can provide
effective security if properly inspected. On the
other hand, highly sophisticated, expensive seals
may provide remarkably poor tamper protection if the
inspection protocol is ineffective.
For optimal tamper detection, the VAT (Vulnerability
Assessment Team, Los Alamos National Laboratory)
believes, it is crucial to train seal inspectors in
the most likely attack scenarios for each seal they
use so that inspectors should specifically look for
signs of those attacks. For example, many seals can
be opened and resealed to look like they did before
being compromised. Unless inspectors have seen
actual examples of seals that have been reapplied
after attack, they can easily miss the subtle signs
of cosmetic alteration. Such signs include
discoloration, scratches, and gloss differences.
Inspectors, as well as all other security personnel,
should always be treated with consideration and
respect. Having disgruntled security personnel is a
classic way that security programs fail. To the
extent practical, seal inspectors should be engaged
intellectually and emotionally in the task of
catching the bad guys. Contests and prizes might be
offered for finding compromised seals in actual use
or during training exercises.
All security programs and security seals should
undergo periodic vulnerability assessments. Ideally,
these will be conducted by independent outside
evaluators who are experienced in finding problems
and suggesting solutions. If the cost or security
concerns prevent the use of outside evaluators,
alternatives are available. Security managers can
draft evaluators from within their own organization.
Ideally, these should include clever, hands-on
people with no direct involvement in the security
program and thus no preconceived notions about
security issues. It is remarkable how often
non-experts can spot problems that have eluded
security personnel caught up in the day-to-day
details of the job. This kind of activity also pays
benefits by improving security awareness throughout
One typical problem is lack of a serial number on
the seal. It is important to place a serial number
as it makes it more difficult for an adversary to
replace the seal or its components with parts from
another seal made by the same manufacturer. When
serial numbers or customized logos are embossed or
stamped onto a seal, the process should be done
deeply. For many seals, the embossing or stamping is
so shallow that it can easily be buffed off and
Sealing Systems and Procedures for
Seals are tamper-indicating devices used to detect
and report unauthorized access. They provide
deterrent against, an indication of, tampering,
pilferage and unauthorised access. Once locked in
position, seals cannot be removed except by
destructive means and broken seals cannot be
re-assembled or re-used. Unlike intrusion or burglar
alarms, seals report unauthorized entry after the
fact. They must be inspected to determine if
unauthorized access has taken place. A seal does not
need to physically resist access. The purpose of a
seal is to reveal evidence of tampering. Customised
Seals with serial numbering and company logo/name
must be used to enhance security level.
An efficient security system not only requires well
trained and trustworthy staff but also a highly
reliable seal, manufactured by companies who are at
the forefront in the fight against meter tampering
and who understand the continually evolving and ever
more ingenious methods used by thieves to steal
energy. This calls for continuous cooperation and
partnership between the utility companies and the
manufacturers of security seals in order to achieve
the desired result. The effectiveness of seals is
strongly dependent on the proper protocols for using
them. These protocols are the official and
unofficial procedures used for seal procurement,
storage, record keeping, installation, inspection,
removal, disposal, reporting, interpreting findings,
and training. With a good protocol, a reliable seal
can provide excellent security.
Our several years of experience in security seal
business has led us to formulate some generic
suggestions for optimizing the security and
reliability of security seals. The following report
is designed to educate a seal user in developing the
correct systems and procedures in order to stop
pilferage and theft of electricity.
ORDERING & STORAGE
Only a small number of personnel within the utility should be authorised to order, store, checkout, and dispose of protective security seals
All seal orders should originate from the head office or a pre-determined ordering location.
The seal manufacturers should be instructed to ship the seals to a specific person's attention of either the head office or another designated location.
In addition to consecutive numbering, the company name or initials should be embossed onto ®each seal to make it absolutely unique.
Each Division should be coded by number and/or colour.
Being low value item, in many Government owned utilities tamper evident security seals are often regarded as Class “C” item but in view of its sensitive application the security seal must be treated as Special “A” class item.
Security seals must be procured from professional manufacturers of security seals who are at forefront in the fight against meter tampering and who understand the continually evolving and ever more ingenious methods used by thieves to steal energy.
Tell seal manufacturers and vendors that you are interested in reliable security seal, not just cost. (And mean it!)
Many seal manufacturers claim to protect seal logos and serial numbers from unauthorized purchasers. Test this yourself covertly. It’s not always true.
All seals and security devices should be kept in a controlled area in order to prevent unauthorised people from obtaining them for illegal use.
Maintain one logbook for outbound seal recording and a separate log book for inbound seal recording.
Use hardcover books, do not use loose-leaf books.
The Outbound Log should contain the following information:
The date and time the seal is applied.
The colour and serial number of the seal.
The Electric Consumer Number.
The name of the person applying the seal.
In order to maintain control over your sealing system, all seals must be properly applied and checked by an inspector or authorised person.
The following procedures for application should be used:
Seal all the possible opening of the meter.
Listen for the "click" when inserting the point of the seal into the locking body.
In order to ensure a positive seal; pull the seal to check the proper locking.
TRAINING & MOTIVATION
- Show your seal installers and inspectors, examples of attacked seals. Inspectors should be familiar with the most likely attack scenarios associated with the specific seal they are using, and look or test for them. Vague instructions, for example, "look for signs of tampering" are not satisfactory.
To the extent possible, seek to engage your seal installers and inspectors intellectually and emotionally in the task of “catching the bad guys”. Explain to them the importance of revenue protection and loss prevention. Explain the reasons for the various seal procedures. Hold contests and demonstrations of process.
Treat your seal installers and inspectors well. Having disgruntled security personnel is a classic way that security programs fail.
Give them a reason to pay attention. Generously and immediately reward seal installers and inspectors who find legitimate problems. Employees who save the utility from theft and loss of revenue are heroes and should be hailed as such in the company newsletter, or even the local newspaper.
Test your seal installers and inspectors (and your tamper detection program) on a frequent, unannounced basis by inserting damaged or tampered seals, or leaving a small decal or token, or tampering with the meter. Give them an immediate cash reward when the anomaly is reported.
Test whether your seal installers and inspectors can be bribed.
On a regular basis, security and loss prevention managers should spend a day with seal installers and inspectors, working alongside them, and listening to their comments. Managers’ perceptions of the task often differ from the harsh reality.
SEAL REMOVAL AND INBOUND RECORDING
In order to ensure the integrity of a seal before its removal, a physical check must be made.
The following procedures for seal removal are recommended:
Only authorized personnel should remove seals.
Enter in the seal log the name, serial number and all coding information appearing on the seal. Be sure to verify that it is the original seal.
Compare the name, serial number and all coding information appearing on the seal with .the corresponding records.
Prior to removing the seal, ensure that it has not been shortened or falsely sealed. Check ….for strange marks and tampering.
Security seals that are inspected visually should be examined with an identical seal held right alongside. Humans do not accurately remember details of exact color, size, surface texture, gloss and patterns, but they are usually very proficient at visual side-by-side comparisons. Counterfeits can be more reliably spotted in this way.
Pull and twist the seal to the left and right to ensure that the seal head has not been violated.
Any discrepancy should be reported to the person(s) assigned to accept such statements, as well as recorded in the seal log.
Any evidence of tampering should be reported to the vigilance department and investigation must be done immediately.
Bear in mind that tampering may involve bypassing the seal entirely. Seal installers and inspectors need to take a more holistic view than merely focusing on the seal.
Most seal users are careful about protecting their seals prior to use. After use, however, seals must be archived or thoroughly destroyed--not simply thrown in the trash. Cutting a seal or punching a hole in it is NOT sufficient. Discarded seals, even if partially destroyed, provide adversaries with a useful source of information, practice samples, and counterfeit parts.
The following steps may be taken to reinforce the seal control program and discourage would-be energy thieves:
Ensure that the fastening devices securing the meter cover and the locking screws cannot be removed without violating the seal.
Use colour-coded seals to differentiate divisions/areas.
Periodically change the seal colors to prevent usage of unauthorized old seals.
Security seals should be viewed as only one part of
an overall security or verification program. In
conclusion, it is advisable in the interest of the
utility companies that a system should be
immediately adopted for use of appropriate type and
variety of the tamper evident security seals to
substantially reduce energy theft & pilferage. In
choosing a seal, it is important to bear in mind
that unit cost is not always the most important
economic factor associated with using a seal, nor is
cost necessarily well correlated with the level of
security a seal can provide. It is important to
choose the right seal with the reliable seal
manufacturers who understand the purpose of the seal
and who can design and develop or modify security
seal whenever required. Use of cheaper quality seal
must be avoided.
Our experience and technical knowledge at SAFCON has
led to the development of a unique new range of most
reliable security seals which offer a precise
solution to many security and protection related
problems. By combining the benefits of special
materials and security features, together with a
clear understanding of a customer's requirements,
Safcon Seals Private Limited technology is unsurpassed.
Here is an increasingly popular solution to one of
the major Electricity theft problem providing both
strength and ease of application. Metgrip Seal
(Patent pending) - A new unique Tamper Evident
Security Seal innovated by Safcon Seals Private Limited on
international standard knockout punch to thieves of
Electricity. The Metgrip Seal is a low cost
combination of high strength engineering,
see-through plastic body and non-corrosive
non-magnetic stainless steel sealing wire available
in five different colours and made absolutely unique
with deep thermo engraved non-repeat serial number
and further customised with customer’s initial
thermo engraved that offers great strength and
security, tool-less application and see-through
tamper indicative locking mechanism.
The synergy of Safcon's three varieties of seals -
(a) Metgrip Seals; (b) Anchor Seals and (c) Hasp-lok
Seals have combined to design a system that affords
ultra-high security at less than one fourth the cost
of other similar traditional imported seals.
Acknowledgement: International Utility Revenue
Protection Assn (IURPA), Los Alamos National
Laboratory, And The Technology Theft Prevention
Foundation, Power Line Research, DVB.