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As DefCon Begins, Child Hackers Ready to Crack US Voting Systems (Because Adult Hackers Find It Just Too Easy)

"These websites are so easy to hack we couldn't give them to adult hackers—they'd be laughed off the stage"

Three young children sit in front of a computer

Can kids like this help improve the integrity of the voting system? Maybe... (Photo: Lucélia Ribeiro/flickr/cc)

At the DEF CON hacker conference, which officially kicked off on Thursday, kids as young as 8 will target replicas of election results reporting sites—because it would just be too easy for adult hackers to do it.

It's part of a competition taking place Friday and Saturday at the gathering's Voting Village—which organizers rolled out for the first time last year—where "the entire voting infrastructure" will go under hackers' scrutiny.

At this year's Voting Village, 8- to 16-year-old hackers will try to exploit the resource media rely on for election results as they come in.

"Kids will hack into replicas of the Secretary of State election results websites for thirteen Presidential Battleground States, manipulating vote tallies and election results," organizers explain.

According to Jake Braun, a former White House liaison for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, who's also co-founder of the Voting Village and executive director of the University of Chicago Cyber Policy Initiative, it would be a "waste of time" to show that the election results sites could be penetrated by older experts.

"These websites are so easy to hack we couldn't give them to adult hackers—they'd be laughed off the stage," Braun told ABC News. "They thought hacking a voter website was interesting 20 years ago. We had to give it to kids to actually make it challenging."

As Voting Village laid out in a pair of tweets, the goal of the competition is threefold:

As Wired reported, the competition, which includes $2,500 in prize money, is co-sponsored by the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

DCN chief technology officer Raffi Krikorian, who was inspired by last year's Voting Village when attendees hacked into voting machines, told Wired, "We wanted to figure out how we could use this to our advantage."

Hackers at the 2017 Voting Village, as ProPublica previously noted, "managed to breach all five models of paperless voting machines, as well as an electronic poll book. The hack received a great deal of media attention. One machine, called a WINvote by Advanced Voting Solutions, was hacked in under two hours and reprogrammed to play Rick Astley's 1987 song 'Never Gonna Give You Up'""

The National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS), meanwhile, sought to diminish the hackers' efforts. In a statement issued Thursday, the group called the conference "a pseudo environment which in no way replicates state election systems, networks, or physical security," and said the hackers were using voting machines "most of which are no longer in use."

The Voting Village, however, asserted in its statement Thursday that "Every type of machine that will be available at DEF CON is in use today," and urged NASS to come to the conference to participate.

The conference, taking place in Las Vegas, ends Sunday.

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