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City of Surrey's trash sign hacked

A electronic sign board in Surrey was hacked. - Eileen Jarrett photo
A electronic sign board in Surrey was hacked.
— image credit: Eileen Jarrett photo

Someone managed to reprogram one of the electronic signs the City of Surrey has been using to inform residents about the recently revised trash collection schedule.

On Oct. 15, one of the signs located on 156 Street just north of 16 Avenue was saying “Smoke weed every day,” instead of “Monday is organics.”

Rob Costanzo, Surrey’s deputy operations manager in the engineering department, thought it was a joke when he got the first call about the altered advisory.

Then someone emailed him a photo.

“Once we were informed, we contacted the entity we rented the signs from and they shut it down,” Costanzo said.

“In the 20 years, I’ve worked for the city, Ive never seen anything like it.”

During the two years of planning that preceded the switch to the new garbage collection system, city staff tried to consider every possible contingency.

But hackers?

“Absolutely, it wasn’t on the list,” Costanzo said.

Surrey is not the first city to discovered electronic sign boards can be messed with.

One week before the Surrey sign was changed, someone managed to reprogram a message board in Portland, Ore. being used to report roadwork and traffic delays to motorists so it read “Warning, Zombies Ahead!”

A Portland newspaper report said several other American cities have experienced the same sort of prank, noting the message machines are not hard to program, but their controls are usually locked and password protected.

In Surrey, as of last week, Costanzo was waiting for a report from the rental company to figure out how the local machine was compromised.

Other than the sign incident, the switchover is going well, Costanzo said.

“We’re 99 per cent there.”

But that is still not good enough, Costanzo added, because it means roughly 200 in the  20,000 homes in each collection area is not following the new schedule, either forgetting to put trash out on their collection day, or leaving out the wrong kind of trash.

“We’re not quite there.”

The way Surrey trash is collected was overhauled as part of a Metro Vancouver regional waste strategy that aims to raise the recycling rate.

More information is available at the city’s website, www.surrey.ca/rethinkwaste or by calling the waste collection hotline at 604-590-7289.

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