Hackers target DOT road signs in Charlotte with vulgar messages

by: Elsa Gillis Updated:

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Hackers got into DOT digital road signs near uptown Charlotte and posted vulgar messages.

It appeared that someone changed the messages on three traffic signs that drivers see every day warning about construction and traffic delays.

The signs have been changed back.

“Honestly, they’re kinda crazy,” Chris Gillespie said. “It's hard to drive over there anyway with all the construction going on, so any kind of disturbance or anything like that, that's going to affect the way you drive over there. It’s definitely a concern." 

A Channel 9 crew noticed a sign was tampered with on the Brookshire Freeway, inbound from Interstate 85, and another on Interstate-277 outbound before the Interstate 77 ramp.

In both cases, the phrases that replaced the normal text were vulgar and offensive.

"I can see where it's inappropriate, but on the other hand, I can see the humor in it too,” Kyndell Bishop said.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation released this statement on the signs: 

“Someone illegally changed three of Sugar Creek Construction’s digital message signs overnight along I-77 North and South with inappropriate messages. As soon as we were notified, we advised the contractor to deactivate the signs. We also instructed the contractor to identify what happened and put preventative measures in place.”

Sugar Creek Construction company also added that, "Sugar Creek has worked in coordination with NCDOT to put additional preventative measures in place in an effort to prevent hackers from illegally changing message boards along the corridor. For security purposes, we cannot discuss what measures were put in place."

This is not the first time DOT traffic signs have been hacked.

In 2014, a hacker claimed responsibility for changing road signs across the state, including one on Interstate 40, some in the mountains and one in Winston-Salem.

It also happened in 2011, when someone changed a road sign in Indian Trail to read, "Impeach Obama."

That same year, two signs were changed to read, "Zombies ahead," and, "be alert for tanks," on Highway 160 in York County.

 "I don't know how you would do anything like that,” Gillespie said.

By 5 a.m., the road signs had been fixed.

"It's definitely not the thing you want to have children see,” Bishop said. 

Channel 9 has reached out to the North Carolina Department of Transportation to find out how the signs were hacked and if their crews had to deal with any other signs with vulgar messages.

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