On 2:25 a.m. Friday morning, a driver called the Pinal County Sheriff Office very concerned about a sign they saw on the highway that read “Hail Hitler.”
The sign was located on Hunt Highway near the Queen Creek area, outside of Phoenix. The police immediately reacted by trying to turn off the sign but found they were locked out because of a password.
The Pinal County Police reached out to the County Public Works to attempt to shut down the sign, but they couldn’t turn it off either. Finally, after the message was displayed for hours, the Pinal County Roads Department dispatched a crew who covered up the sign until it could be turned off or changed.
According to KNXV-TV, police are still investigating the incident and trying to determine who hacked into the sign and how it was done. A private company, MBC, owns the sign and the sheriff’s office was unable to reach them during the incident.
The sign didn’t use the German version of the phrase, “Heil Hitler”, but used the American version instead. Police say this won’t be treated as a hate crime because there wasn’t a specific target for the attack, but this could change if MBC, who owns the sign, files a formal complaint.
At least two drivers took a picture of the sign reading “Hail Hitler.” Tiffany King snapped a picture when it was still dark outside. Later, Michelle Foor took a picture of the sign as well, and by this time, it was daylight. The differing times of day the pictures were snapped reveal several hours went by before police covered up the sign.
The whole incident leaves many wondering just how vulnerable electronic billboards are to hackers. On highways, in particular, these signs are often a critical platform for relaying important information to drivers such as roadwork, delays, accidents, or even amber alerts. Had an important message been removed and replaced with “Hail Hilter,” what was likely a harmless prank could have had deadly consequences. Moreover, the sign could have resulted in accidents by distracting the drivers from the road. After all, no one knows how many people pulled out their phones to snap a picture while they were driving down the highway.