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Posted at 05:45 PM ET, 05/11/2011

‘Caution Zombies Ahead’: N. Va. electronic sign hacked


They’ll eat your brains. Or push you off your bike on the W&OD Trail. (David S. Holloway - GETTY IMAGES)
“Caution Zombies Ahead.”

The three words lit up an electronic sign in Falls Church Wednesday morning, serving as a warning for bicyclists and hikers on the Washington & Old Dominion Trail.

“We have had some zombie sightings,” joked Steven Titunik, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Transportation. “Normally we don’t get them up past North Carolina, but with global warming, who knows?”

Titunik’s chuckle indicated that VDOT does have a sense of humor — even when a construction zone warning sign has been hacked.

“We don’t know who did it,” said Titunik.

A simple Google search reveals the zombie-related sign hacking isn’t a novel idea. There have been reports in Texas, South Carolina and North Carolina in recent years.

This was the first such No.Va. case, as far as Titunik knew, and is especially notable because it occurred during Zombie Awareness Month.

Titunik said it was also worth noting that this particular sign was not operated by VDOT but rather by Fluor-Lane, a private Alexandria-based firm that has partnered with the state agency for its HOT lanes project.

“The sign was not on a road,” said Titunik. “It was on a part of the trail leading up to the new bridge, intended to warn bicyclists and pedestrians of construction ahead.”

The new W&OD Trail bridge over the Capital Beltway is currently under construction and expected to be complete in early June, said Titunik.

According to the Friends of the W&OD Trail Web site, anyone in the vicinity must use caution — and they don’t mean caution against the walking dead that may try to slurp up their brains.

“The signs are used to keep people safe. I don’t know what the exact wording was supposed to be, but it probably warned people to stay away because there was construction ahead.”

Titunik said VDOT became aware of the situation around noon Wednesday (more than three hours after WJLA posted a user-submitted photo of the sign), at which point the language was corrected. He said VDOT would investigate the situation and follow up with Fluor-Lane.

“The box was locked,” he said. “You can’t just hack into the system, you have to get into the box. I’m not sure the average person could access it. Granted, I don’t know how difficult that would be.

Apparently, not very. A hacker’s how-to guide indicates ways to bypass the system.

“It’s a funny thing, but it does qualify as vandalism,” said Titunik. “This is a prosecutable offense, if we find out who did it.”

More Zombie Awareness Month goodness:

Zombie ants bite at noon, die at sunset (with video)

Earlier: Zombies make date to attack Lincoln Memorial (also with video)

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By  |  05:45 PM ET, 05/11/2011

 
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