Sign hacker broadcasts zombie warnings
By Katie Petroski | Wednesday, January 28, 2009, 04:10 PM
Someone reprogrammed two city construction road signs near the University of Texas early Monday morning in an attempt to warn Austin of an imminent zombie attack.
Messages that typically alert Lamar Boulevard drivers to a detour for Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard splashed several warnings like ?Caution! Zombies Ahead!? and ?Nazi Zombies! Run!!!?
As he drove south on Lamar, traffic controller Bruce Jones saw the first sign flash the Nazi zombies message at 6 a.m. and wheeled his truck around for another look. Then he said he noticed that the second sign, directed at northbound drivers, had also been tampered with.
Jones, who has one of only two keys to the locked access panels on the portable signs, said that the hacker broke into the panels on each sign and bypassed the passwords before leaving five different zombie messages and even changing one of the passwords. Jones said he had to wait until 8 a.m. to call the manufacturing company to figure out how to override the hacker?s work. He speculated that the hacker could be a computer genius from UT.
The biggest safety hazard came from drivers slowing down or stopping their car to take pictures, Jones said.
The hacking occurred within weeks of various articles appearing online with descriptions of how to hack into these road signs ? which point out that such an act is illegal.
Dennis Crabill, project manager with the Public Works Department, said the access panels are always locked and are not programmed with the default passwords these sites suggest. Short of having a watchman on duty around the clock, he said there is little more the city can do to prevent such vandalism.
?It?s a pretty childish prank,? he said.
Crabill said he is optimistic that MLK Boulevard will be open to two-way traffic again by this weekend, and the detour will no longer be necessary.
No zombies have been seen in the area, and with any luck, Tuesday night?s cold front killed off any undead with ghoulish plans to invade the city.