Well, That Didn’t Work Out As Planned.

“Droogie” (not his real name) made a presentation to this years DefCon hacking conference where his funny and mischievous plan didn’t turn out quite like he wanted.

Droogie is a security researcher who decided that in order to prank and cause law enforcement license plate readers issues, he would register for the vanity plate of “NULL.”

“Null” in computer programming is a term for no specific value.

The “plan” was that the DMV’s computers and law enforcement plate scanners would see “null” in the data and think nothing was there.

It didn’t work out quite that way:

I was like, ‘I’m the s**t,'” he joked to the crowd. “‘I’m gonna be invisible.’ Instead, I got all the tickets.”

It got better, or worse depending on your point of view:

Things didn’t go south immediately. As Droogie explained, he’s a cautious driver and didn’t get any tickets for the first year he owned the vanity plate. Then he went to reregister his tags online, and, when prompted to input his license plate, broke the DMV webpage.

It seemed the DMV site didn’t recognize the plate “NULL” as an actual input.

That was the first sign that something was amiss.

The next sign was, well, a little more serious: After receiving a legitimate parking ticket, thousands of dollars in random tickets starting arriving in the mail at his house, addressed to him.

It seemed that a privately operated citation processing center had a database of outstanding tickets, and, for some reason — possibly due to incomplete data on their end — many of those tickets were assigned to the license plate “NULL.” In other words, the processing center was likely trying to tell its systems it didn’t know the plates of the offending cars. Instead, with Droogie’s vanity plate now in play, it pegged all those outstanding tickets on him.

Specifically, over $12,000 worth of outstanding tickets.

The DMV said “change your tags” to which Droogie replied, “no because I didn’t do anything wrong.”

But the tickets were still piling up. Thankfully, the DMV contacted the private citation processing company, which then erased the $12,000 in fines. However, and this part is key, they didn’t actually fix the problem with their system.

Droogie explained that, as of present, tickets are still being associated with his license plate and the system thinks he owes over $6,000.

Essentially, Droogie’s prank backfired. Hard. But no matter what, he insisted to the laughing crowd, he’s not paying those d*** tickets.

Mess with the system, the system messes back.

Thing is years ago one of our folks had an issue with parking tickets. They were caught in a similar loop from an input error from the police / DMV. Like most people would do, they called the agency that handled parking tickets and were told they found the error and would erase the tickets.

Only they didn’t.

When it came time to renew their driver’s license, the person had thousands of dollars worth of tickets on their record, including fines for failure to pay the tickets the agency said they cleared out.

It took hours to get the situation resolved and to get their license renewed.

Still, they were not named “Droogie” and did not start out trying to mess with the system.

So there’s always that.

2 Responses to “Well, That Didn’t Work Out As Planned.”

  1. Percy Veer says:

    In computer programming, it’s always the stuff you don’t think of that ends up biting you in the backside. Good example of why we need to proceed carefully with the AI stuff. In a previous life I remember going through program code looking for the cause of an error only to find out that the original programmer didn’t consider something that seemed meaningless at the time. Like what if it’s a full moon on the 2nd Friday of the month in an odd numbered year. These programs had worked fine for twenty years and then some strange combination of inputs would trigger something unexpected.

    • AAfterwit says:

      Percy Veer,

      Thanks for the comment.

      A couple of people on the staff here at Raised on Hoecakes took a basic course in C+ years ago. The timing was just after the Challenger shuttle accident and the investigation was still going on.

      The teacher of this class was part of the team that was charged with reviewing the programming code for the shuttle.

      His team had come up with over 3000 potentially catastrophic issues with the code. By “catastrophic,” he didn’t mean “something wouldn’t work on the shuttle. He meant “things that could cause the shuttle to blow up.”

      He wasn’t sure if the coding errors were part of what you describe – someone thinking that it was meaningless – or whether the coders were told not to worry about it.

      Still, it was a scary proposition with you think about it.

      Thanks again.

      A. Afterwit.