How to Prevent Hacking of Digital Billboards

The recent hacking of two digital billboards in Alabama reminds us of these important points:

  1. Digital billboards – like the rest of the world linked to the internet – are vulnerable to attack
  2. We must secure the structure and the cyber feed
  3. To that end, the industry has helpful, practical guidelines (and more on the way)
  4. Like it or not, hacking prompts global, unwanted attention

With 6,000+ digital billboards nationwide, our cyber-security record is strong. But one hack is too many. Last year in Georgia, the woman who called 911 to report an obscene image on a hacked billboard in metro Atlanta summed it up: “It’s not actually an emergency; it’s just totally disgusting.”

The hacker who breached two billboards in Alabama (posting a photo shopped meme of Senator Marco Rubio) said he aims for the “absurd and rediculous.” Spelling is not his forte, but he added this sobering epilogue: the breach was easy.

The good news is that practical, easy-to-implement, and inexpensive steps can make digital billboards secure and reduce the odds of hacking.

Download the slides used in an OAAA presentation to the Outdoor Advertising Association of Georgia last year on how to safeguard digital billboards from unauthorized access.

Here are four top tips:

  • Develop and use strong passwords
  • Find out who has access to your digital displays. What are their security measures?
  • Consider getting your router off the internet; use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)
  • Have a crisis plan; test the plan

On a broader level, the entire commerce system is focused on cyber-security, along with government. In 2009, hackers breached government road signs in Texas to warn “Zombies Ahead.”

As hackers gain sophistication, business and government must stay ahead or face risks.

OAAA has commissioned top security experts to test digital billboards and update the industry’s guidance based on the latest technologies. These tests have been completed, thanks to the cooperation of DDI Media based in St. Louis, MO.

Stay tuned for updated information on securing digital billboards. Until then, keep in mind the words of the sage from Omaha, Warren Buffett: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it; if you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

(Bill Ripp is chairman of the OAAA Digital Billboard Committee. He is Vice President/Digital Development, Lamar Advertising Company.)

Originally posted to Billboard Insider.

Modified: 2 years