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Did that electronic road sign say what I thought it did? Blame pranksters

  • This was the sign that displayed a ribald message Tuesday morning, on Route 18 in Littleton. The picture has been altered to remove the message, done with the permission of the Facebook user who took the photo and who did not want to be credited. Courtesy— This was the sign that displayed a ribald message Tuesday morning, on Route 18 in Littleton. The picture has been altered to remove the message, done with the permission of the Facebook user who took the photo and who did not want to be credited. Courtesy—


Monitor staff
Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Electronic road signs are useful for letting drivers know what’s coming but can also be vulnerable to electronic fiddling, as drivers in Littleton found out Tuesday morning.

The Vermont Department of Transportation or its contractors had installed a trailer-mounted electronic sign on the New Hampshire side of the Route 18 bridge over the Connecticut River. It cautioned drivers about delays due to the replacement of a culvert in Vermont.

That is, it cautioned them until Tuesday morning when somebody managed to hack into its controls, changing the message to an obscene demand that needn’t be repeated here.

The change drew attention on Facebook, where a photo posted on one personal page drew more than 100 comments. Most of the comments were along the lines of “sounds like something I would do!” but a few noted with satisfaction that the license plate on the trailer was from Massachusetts.

The sign was made by SolarTech, based in Allentown, Pa.

The message had been fixed by mid-morning on Tuesday, according to comments under the post.

Electronic road signs, officially called dynamic message signs, are notoriously vulnerable to pranksters. A South Dakota company famously, or perhaps infamously, sent out all its trailer-mounted signs with the same default password and a system that was easy to switch from a secure Virtual Private Network to the open Internet, making it easy to break into them remotely.

Road signs operated by New Hampshire Department of Transportation are controlled from a central office in Concord.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)