Owner of Washington Road billboard talks about costs of hacking

An Augusta business owner and police investigators are still trying to figure out how a hacker managed to take some liberties with a digital billboard. The sign, located near World of Beer and Chicken Salad Chick along Washington Road, displayed several unapproved and vulgar images over the weekend in the heart of a growing cyber capitol.

While some are calling it a harmless prank, the sign’s owner says it’s certainly not a laughing matter.

Washington Road is Augusta’s billboard central – designed to catch the eyes of locals and tourists from all across the country. One billboard certainly did that Saturday night after Chris Withers’ digital billboard was hacked.

“We were shocked, we were mortified,” Withers says. “There was vial stuff put up there. I mean, it was stuff that does not follow along with what we do as a company or [for] our customers.”

He says he has owned at least 16 digital billboards across the area since 2010 while selling regular billboards for more than 20 years. He says a similar hacking took place in Atlanta in 2015 that caught his attention, but he never expected anything like this to hit his company.

“We thought we were good,” Withers says. “We thought we were completely safe because it is kind of a nightmare in our business. You’ve heard about it and you’re like, ‘Oh my goodness, I hope this doesn’t happen to me.’ And lo and behold, it happened to me on Saturday night.”

The billboard is back to normal and showing it’s regular advertising. But the owner of BeStill Displays says he and his team had to move fast after he got a text about the hack around 11:30 p.m. Saturday night.

“We immediately had to take this computer down off this billboard and replace it with a new one,” Withers says, “then we are going to have to go in and buy this managed software that will protect us and that’s going to cost me $2000 a year.”

That doesn’t include $10,000 he’s had since to pay since Saturday to fix this problem, including several new computers for his billboards and an upgraded system. But while some think this is just a prank gone viral, Withers says this is no joke.

“To those that maybe enjoy hacking or think it’s a game – it’s not,” Withers says. “I am not a large public company. I am a local billboard guy, I live here in Augusta Georgia. My kids are here. $10,000 – that just doesn’t appear. I think most people are going to be okay and realize it was out of our hands, but there is still some negative backlash.”

He says he also has a message to other businesses concerned about dealing with hackers.

“Don’t just think you are protected – you may be vulnerable,” Withers says. “Just double check because this is a hard, hard lesson to find out.”

Withers says he’s working with the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office to find the people responsible and has even gotten the FBI involved. He says the images do not represent what his company and his customers stand for and he’s doing everything he can to make sure this doesn’t happen again.


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