Recently, a large and prominent touchscreen display in Union Station in Washington D.C. blasted pornographic videos for all to see. Passers-by reaction ranged from amusement to horror, but without doubt but the embarrassment caused to the authorities was huge. The simple fact that adult-oriented content was displayed nefariously in a public space frequented by people of all ages is cause for concern. And while this particular incident makes for catchy headlines, it underscores the (often overlooked) importance of security. Failure to take necessary security precautions leaves digital signage networks…for lack of a better term…exposed.
Truth be told, unauthorized access of signage networks happens more frequently than you may think – and certainly more frequently than is reported in the media. The reality is that most digital signage is now connected to the internet in one way or another – either to pull real-time content or for the purpose of remote network management. Internet connectivity leaves signage networks vulnerable, and software is the only deterrent that stands in the way of hackers.
All too often, standard consumer operating systems such as Android, Mac OS, Windows and Chrome OS are used to drive signage networks. And while consumer OS solutions are easy to implement and feature rich, they are notoriously difficult to protect. These operating systems are constantly updated as their publishers add new functionality and bug fixes. Each of these updates creates a new potential backdoor for hackers to exploit to gain access to the network. So unless network administrators and software vendors are constantly looking for and shutting down these backdoors as they’re created, hackers will find a way in.
For years I’ve preached the advantages of purpose-build digital signage over traditional signage solutions. Here is yet another example of how hardware and software with the sole purpose of powering digital signage hold a significant advantage over consumer-oriented operating system solutions. Proprietary operating systems that are built solely for digital signage far surpass consumer-oriented operating systems in their approach to security. A proven security platform that can be utilized in this proprietary operating system approach is one that is widely used in the broadcast industry. This approach allows for the content to be hardware-encrypted which enables an extra layer of security so that the content is real-time decrypted with customer-specific security keys in the processor at the time of delivery to the display.
The silver lining emerging from the Union Station incident is that it spotlights the importance of secure software within the digital signage ecosystem. Each notable security breach presents an opportunity for proprietors and vendors to reassess their signage infrastructure to ensure they aren’t at risk for the embarrassment and disruption of a compromised network.