With SXSW looming, Austin may need to clean up its zombie problem.
I’m in a local news mood for some reason, maybe because I rewatched Anchorman last night and just ran through the video from KXAN’s coverage of a roadside sign hack from last week. Here’s the video:
This made the local news here last week, and it brought my wife and me to tears of laughter. I immediately thought of Topper and his project, “Finally getting sports scores to appear on my 42″x8″ dot matrix LED display (think train station sign)” which he shared in comments recently. It also reminded me of that washing machine hack, that blinks a message on an LED sign when the load finished.
As with most pranks, there are unhappy parties, namely the City of Austin and Imago (h/t to Michael Krigsman for digging up the company’s name). According to the news report, the ‘tubes has sites with instructions on how to hack one of these signs (gasp!). Shockingly, the ‘tubes are sometimes used for mischief. The instructions sounded pretty basic; get access to the control panel, type in the password (which is rarely changed from the manufacturer’s default), and enter your message of choice.
The hackers apparently had to use bolt cutters or some such to cut off a lock on the panel. But beyond that comes the intersesting piece for me.
Immediately, you think, “why wouldn’t you change the default password?” You’d change (or remove) scott/tiger on a db install. This is sysadmin basics 101.
But these signs are out on road sides, and road crews need to get into them and program the correct messages. This becomes a logistical nightmare if you follow strong passwords with frequent changes.
So, there’s a balance required here that includes both physical and software security, spread across many users of different skill levels. Interesting stuff, at least to me.
Also funny/interesting, KXAN provides resources on zombies or “Your Guide to the Undead” on the story’s page. That’s either a hilarious algorithm fail (like Google Ad fails) or it’s someone at that station with a great sense of humor.
I’ve noticed lately that local news can be awesome. KGW, our local NBC affiliate is heavily involved with Twitter, and not just for broadcasting. They actively engage people over Twitter and the Live at 7 (@TheSquare) crew includes tweets collected during the show. I even got one of mine up there once, and yes, my parents were so very proud.
The great thing here is local news using the social web to draw in their viewers. News is news, but local news affects local people. If you find more ways to draw local people into your news coverage, you win.
I feel a full post coming on, so I’ll leave it at this for now.