Is DOOH an Easy Target for Hackers?


Digital Out-of-Home (DOOH) is at the dawn of a global surge. As technology advances, and DOOH becomes increasingly affordable, digital billboards and advertising screens are becoming commonplace. Advertisers are enjoying flexibility and ease of management as wireless technology enables users to upload and schedule content remotely.

But, like any service connected to the Internet, DOOH is accompanied by certain security risks. Without proper measures in place, digital billboards become vulnerable to outsiders gaining control of their content. And after several high-profile hacking incidents recently in the headlines, the question everyone is asking is, “Is DOOH secure?”

Why are digital billboards at risk from hackers?

Digital billboards are strategically placed to ensure high visibility in busy locations. Any cyber-vandalism attack against a digital billboard will be high profile and afford a great deal of publicity. As such, this makes DOOH a prime target for cybercriminals.  That includes vandals, hackers, graffiti artists, guerrilla advertisers and those looking to spread propaganda.

At the same time, the rapid growth of digital billboard networks has far too often left many measures unchecked when it comes to security. In many cases, poor passwords, unencrypted data and physical weak spots allow digital billboards to become a scarily soft target for hackers.

Just last month, ‘friendly’ hackers infiltrated a digital billboard at a busy shopping center in Liverpool. The large screen displayed a warning from the hackers: “We suggest you improve your security. Sincerely, your friendly neighbourhood hackers.”

But not all digital billboard hacks have been so good-natured. Last week, a giant advertising screen in Buenos Aires was hacked to show hardcore porn, and a large touchscreen display at Union Station in Washington D.C. was recently hacked at rush-hour to display pornographic videos to passersby.

Hacking incidents such as these generate a lot of unflattering publicity and have financial impacts on the operators or agencies that own the billboards. So, what can we do to prevent these incidents, and what measures can we take to ensure that digital billboards are secure against cyber attacks?

What are governing bodies doing to keep DOOH secure?

Cyber-security has long been a priority for global governing bodies. The U.K. Office of Cyber Security and Information Assurance is committed to ‘ensuring that the U.K.’s information and cyber security technical capability and operation architecture is improved and maintained,’ whilst ‘engaging with international partners in improving the security of cyberspace and information security.’

Similarly, the Department of Homeland Security in the U.S. ‘works with other federal agencies to conduct high-impact criminal investigations to disrupt and defeat cyber criminals, prioritize the recruitment and training of technical experts, develop standardized methods and broadly share cyber response best practices and tools.’

Within the advertising world itself, the Outdoor Advertising Associates of America have employed security experts to test digital billboards and update industry guidance according to the latest technological advances. President and CEO Nancy Fletcher assures us that “Digital security is a priority for the outdoor advertising industry… The industry has adopted clear guidelines to protect digital billboards from hackers.”

However, whilst governing bodies continue to develop and strengthen cyber security, the only way to ensure that a digital billboard is secure is to follow certain guidelines in order to safeguard your digital signage:

Tips for safeguarding your digital signage:

In order to safeguard digital signage against outside hackers, consider employing the following security measures:

  1. Use strong passwords

A strong password could be your only defence against a hostile takeover of a digital screen. Passwords should be complex and updated regularly (at a minimum of every six months). Never use shared passwords.

  1. Consider taking your router offline

If possible, use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Avoid using public accessible IP addresses, or if you do use them, ensure that they can only be accessed by known incoming IP addresses.

  1. Maintain physical security at your digital billboard site

To prevent onsite tampering, ensure physical access to your digital screen is limited and secured. Use fences, security cameras or alarm systems if appropriate. Don’t run access cables to the ground or enable Wi-Fi access for support.

  1. Manage access

Carefully manage who has access to your CMS, including people that are both internal and external to your organization. Check the security measures of anyone who has access to your digital displays, and understand how your vendor supports your digital screen.

  1. Have a plan in the event of a cyber attack

How will you identify any problems with your digital billboard? You could rely on receiving a phone call from a third party or the police, or you could opt for software monitoring or web camera evaluations. Know whom you need to contact for support in the case of an emergency and what steps are required to disable access to the billboard if necessary. Following the security steps above will reduce the likelihood of a cyber attack, but it’s important to establish a response plan that includes all aspects of IT, legal, public communications and security.

Like any form of digital advertising, DOOH is at a certain risk from cyber attack. But that doesn’t mean we need to jump ship and abandon all the opportunities afforded by DOOH. With proper security measures in place, advertisers can safely take advantage of the vibrant displays, real-time updates, flexibility and technological developments that digital signage offers. DOOH is as secure as you make it.


About Author

Sarah Hanney is a writer and blogger for Signkick, focused on generating content that enables small businesses and startups to create successful OOH advertising campaigns. She has been working in the marketing industry for nine years and has a particular interest in the creative use of technology to improve the relevance and success of outdoor advertising.


  1. Hi Sarah,

    This is a really interesting article! I recently started running DOOH ads for a client of mine. I know this article is more targeted to owners/operators but what about account holders? Do you think there is risk of client data being obtained in a data breach due to lack of security on the publisher side? Obviously I use secure passwords so I’m more worried about it coming in from the network.

    Thanks for your insight!


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