Digital graffiti: Zombie-loving hackers hack road sign

Maybe because spring is in the air, pranksters are playing outside a bit more instead mostly on their computers? At any rate, there were two reports of hacked road signs this week.


First the disclaimer, hacking road signs is a crime, a felony, but people who disregard that to pursue digital graffiti have caused people to chuckle . . . and some to cuss. There are people who get their panties in a twist over hacked electronic road signs, generally people from the Department of Transportation who didn't lock the message-entry box and/or didn't change the DOTS default password. And there are people who claim that seeing a hacked construction sign has brightened their day. I don't think anyone has wrecked after being warned of "Zombies Ahead," as happened in Colorado alongside the Boulder Foothills Parkway this week.

Zombie-loving hackers have been warning motorists of upcoming zombies via hacked electronic construction signs for about eight years. The Boulder Daily Camera reported the hack and spoke to Stephen Jones who teaches a zombie class at the University of Colorado. Jones said, "It's a victimless crime -- it's just changing something that can be undone really quickly. And I don't think anyone's going to drive their car off the road when they see the sign."  He added that seeing the sign would likely brighten anyone's day.

Compare that to how a hacked road sign was treated in Texas. Swamplot posted pictures of the sign that was changed from "Detour" to "Hacked" to "Poop" and then to ":) LOL." Houston Chronicle said TxDOT was not laughing out loud, saying the electronic sign was locked and more specifically warning of up to a $500 fine for the illegal activity. The hacker commented "catch me if you can," but ABC13 claimed he has now turned himself in to authorities. Whether or not the same person posted all three messages, Swamplot reported this guy is taking credit for being the "brilliant mastermind who spent 30 seconds at an open, unlocked keyboard attached to a downtown electronic construction sign over the weekend, changing the message from "Poop" to ";> LOL."

Jalopnik, which took some heat for explaining how-to hack electronic road signs in the past, asked people to please not write something stupid. Actually Jalopnik wrote, "Sign-hacking is apparently so simple even the least creative 4Chan member can do it."

The blog i-hacked explained that these signs are so easily hacked because the instrument panels are left unlocked or the default passwords are not changed. Sign Hacker comments varied from a hacked sign could endanger people lives, to what's the harm unless a sign was warning that a bridge was out? How-to's are all over the Net, but some of my favorites have been covered on Reddit.

Last year, after a Miami road construction sign was changed from warning drivers that a street was closed to a potentially offensive "No Latinos. No Tacos," the Sun Sentinel reported it was a felony. Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Annunziat stated, "If caught, the person could be charged with trespassing on a construction site, which is a felony; or criminal mischief, which also could be bumped up to a felony charge if damage to the sign exceeds $1,000."

At least hacked electronic road signs cautioning drivers to keep an eye out for zombies do not insult anyone. Except for maybe the person who was supposed to lock the instrument panel? It seems most people are amused by sign-hacking. 

There have been road signs hacked to alert drivers of flying monkeys (video) to reflect "rock" lyrics (video) and all kinds of humorous warnings about zombies or raptors ahead and even wicked slippery roads (Diggnation video).

Perhaps the Department of Transportation should lock up the instrument panel or at least change the password from one of the common ones listed on the Web? Until that happens, perhaps especially since Spring is in the air, DOT should prepare for digital graffiti in the form of more hacked electronic road signs?




Images used with permission. This video shows many of the other cool hacked road signs. 

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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