Are Hacked Traffic Signs the New Nerd Fad?

By Casey Ciccone June 09, 2014

Traffic signs are essential for heads-up information concerning highway maintenance, delays, or other safety notifications. They aren’t exclusive to vehicles, but also beneficial to people walking on the streets. The signs need to be accurate and concise. Any false information can be harmful.

Last month in San Francisco, traffic signs were flashing "Godzilla Attack! Turn Back" over Van Ness Ave. Drivers stopped to take pictures of the unusual sign. And this isn’t the only incident. Traffic signs across the country are being hacked and rewritten. A traffic sign in Kensington Md., read, “Smoke Weed Evryday.”

These pranks receive all sorts of coverage from news to social media. Some people see these signs as a funny joke and might encourage the behavior; others might see it as a problem. 

A simple Google search can provide you with the links and instructions needed to change traffic sign messages. In fact, there is a website that has the instructions available for anyone to use. Tampering with traffic signs is obviously illegal, and it is not recommended to look this stuff up. The problem is the information is out there, and it is available.

The situation in San Francisco immediately sparked a response. The Department of Homeland Security's Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team (ICS-CERT) advised consumers of Daktronics Inc to take the necessary procedures to prevent other similar, or follow-up attacks. 

Last year at the University of Southern California, an electronic traffic sign was changed to make fun of the LAPD. The sign "was a single electronic traffic sign belonging to our department and is used by us and LAPD Southwest to put out generic crime prevention tips," said John Thomas, chief of USC’s Department of Public Safety. These signs are intended for public interest and safety; however, they are seeing misconduct. Students from USCLA responded through social media with humor, overlooking the possibility of harm it may cause.

The positive response these hacks receive could influence others to imitate. Improved security should be imposed so the signs can resume their intended purpose: safety for the public. 

Edited by Rory J. Thompson

TechZone360 Contributing Writer

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