Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Stephen Harper Eats Babies

Harper doesn't eat babies: GO Transit
Rail authority apologizes after mischievous rider hacks into electronic message board
May 2, 2006. 07:47 AM

Gerry Nicholls thought he was hallucinating as he kicked back in his seat to take the 35-minute GO train ride to his Oakville home.

About every three seconds, the scrolling electronic sign that usually carries transit updates and advertisements had a very different message that he just could not keep his eyes off.

"Stephen Harper Eats Babies. Stephen Harper Eats Babies. Stephen Harper Eats Babies," the message kept repeating.

"No one (in the car) seemed to be reacting to it," said Nicholls, who happens to be vice-president of the National Citizens Coalition, the same conservative think-tank formerly headed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

"You go home and you are trying to rest from work and all of a sudden where they usually talk about Ticketmaster, all of a sudden you see this thing say `Stephen Harper Eats Babies,'" Nicholls said yesterday. "I wasn't even sure when I got off the train. Was I hallucinating?"

Turns out he wasn't.

An ingenious hacker, who boarded the Lakeshore GO Transit westbound train, made sure that on Thursday, Friday and yesterday, suburban commuters in at least five different cars continued to get his or her subliminal message

His weapon of choice was a remote control device that can be bought at a Sam's Club and used to discreetly program scrolling electronic signs found commonly in shop windows — and in every GO Transit train car — from about two metres away.

When Exclusive Advertising, the company that sells interior advertising on GO trains, installed the LED signs about nine years ago, the signs, which have to be individually programmed, couldn't be password protected, said company president Greg Donohue.

The company sells advertisers $8,690 of space a month to play 15-second messages with 52 characters on a three-minute loop.

Donohue said the hacker appears to have always gotten on the train at the third car from the locomotive and used the upper levels of the train.

"We have never had any problems until now," said Donahue.

GO Transit spokesperson Ed Shea called it "a case of electronic vandalism."

"Unfortunately it's a slur, it's an offensive message," said Shea. "We regret it happened and we're sorry if anybody was offended, including the Prime Minister."

To prevent it from happening again, GO Transit will have to power down all the signs on their cars and use special software that is being couriered from the United States to password protect 790 such digital signs.

The whole process will take about three days.

Meanwhile, Nicholls said he's still not sure what to make of the whole episode, except to say that he was more startled by the over-the-top attack than anything.

"I kept waiting for the kicker," he said. "There's got to be something to this. It's a joke, they're going to explain it. It's an ad for baby food or something like that. It just kept going over and over again and I realized that this is something that could be pretty serious.

"I'm sure a lot of people could take offence, and I guess the other point is what other message could they put there?"

Asked about his time with Harper at the National Citizens Coalition, Nicholls said: "I worked with Stephen Harper for five years and never once did he in that time eat a baby."


Miss Ash said...

"Never once in that time did he eat a baby." This whole thing is hilarious!!!

Trib said...

He so does! I read it on one of those scrolling sign things.