VANITY LICENCE PLATES have long been a symbol of more money and ego than sense in the UK, but in the US, they've been the norm for years. Occasionally, the choices, even those theoretically legal, can cause havoc for computers and this one is a cracker.
A security researcher by the moniker of Droogie decided he wanted to have some fun with Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) systems (ALPR in the US) systems and much to his surprise and delight, found that the number plate "NULL" was available.
This seemed like a splendid wheeze. That is until the tickets started.
You see - ‘null' is a powerful word in computing. It is often used as the default for an unspecified field, meaning "no detail given".
You can probably see where this is going.
Suddenly, Droogie started to receive every parking ticket in the City that couldn't be linked to a number plate and had therefore been logged in the system as <null>.
The idea was sound, but it had backfired. Droogie wanted to see if "NULL" would make him invisible and invincible to the federal computers. Instead, the opposite happened.
All in all, there were $12000 (about £9,900 and falling in New World Order Boris Bucks) worth of fines sent and although the local traffic cops are happy to keep cancelling them, there's still not an entirely reliable way of stopping it happening without changing the plates.
"I'm gonna be invisible," thought Droogie, as he explained the story to an audience at the Def Con hacking conference. "instead, I got all the tickets".
Droogie now has a new mission. Because if this is what ‘null' does to a parking ticket, then what could it do when used to apply for plane tickets, or apply for jobs.
Is this a widespread sleeping bug that has only failed to cause havoc because nobody had thought of it before?
Well, the gauntlet is down. Time will tell. But no more time than the allotted 2 hours on that single yellow line there. μ
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