Ever since the computerized voting machines were implemented, systems experts have been warning about how easy it is to hack them. The problem has been that each voting district feels territorial about their own equipment in spite of how little they really understood about their systems’ weaknesses. Then, someone had a brilliant idea.
Every year thousands of adult hackers meet, and a group of DEFCON officials decided to let the younger set try to hack 13 voting software and machines similar to those in the battleground states Donald Trump would need to win in 2020, according to PBS NewsHour.
It took less than 10 minutes for 11-year-old Emmett Brewer to hack into a duplicate Florida secretary of state’s election website and alter the voting results. Children as young as eight-years-old and up to 16-years-old participated in the “DEFCON Voting Machine Hacking Village.” There were 50 kids who attempted to “manipulate party names, candidate names, and vote count totals.”
An 11-year-old girl hacked into the website in 15 minutes. She was able to triple how many voters were in the secretary of state’s site. Over 30 of the 50 participating kids hacked into the websites in less than 30 minutes.
Until recently Donald Trump hid his attempts to interact with Russian hacker help. Then this summer, he told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that, of course, he would use help from the Russians:
‘Somebody comes up and says, “hey, I have information on your opponent,” do you call the FBI? I’ll tell you what, I’ve seen a lot of things over my life. I don’t think in my whole life I’ve ever called the FBI. In my whole life. You don’t call the FBI. You throw somebody out of your office, you do whatever you do. Oh, give me a break – life doesn’t work that way.’
Co-founder of the nonprofit r00tz Asylum Nico Sell talked about how his organization teaches kids how to learn to be hackers. One of the girls at the world’s largest yearly hacking convention DEFCON 26 told PBS NewsHour:
‘These are very accurate replicas of all of the sites. These things should not be easy enough for an 8-year-old kid to hack within 30 minutes, it’s negligent for us as a society.’
Sell was making an important point: showing kids could hack into the voting systems almost as well as adult hackers, who hacked voting locations in under five minutes:
‘So this year we decided to bring the voting village to the kids as well.’
About 50 children participated in the two-day event. More than 30 of them were able to hack into secretaries of states’ voting systems, the place where vote tallies get posted.
Computer and Information Science professor at the University of Pennsylvania Matt Blaze helped put the event together, and he said that the kids who were involved in the exercise were using websites “even more formidable” than the real ones the secretaries of states used.
He said voting security experts and other adults who participated in the “hacking village” to get into the actual voting machines and voting software had become “more knowledgeable about voter technology:”
‘It’s not surprising that these precocious, bright kids would be able to do it because the websites that are on the internet are vulnerable, we know they are vulnerable. What was interesting is just how utterly quickly they were able to do it.’
The National Association of Secretaries of State released a rather defensive statement that read:
‘(It was) ready to work with civic-minded members of the DEFCON community wanting to become part of a proactive team effort to secure our elections.’
However, the group was skeptical about the young hackers’ ability to get into the real state websites. The letter continued:
‘It would be extremely difficult to replicate these systems since many states utilize unique networks and custom-built databases with new and updated security protocols. While it is undeniable websites are vulnerable to hackers, election night reporting websites are only used to publish preliminary, unofficial results for the public and the media. The sites are not connected to vote counting equipment and could never change actual election results.’
Sell said the exercise the children took part in demonstrates the level of security vulnerabilities found in the U.S. election system. She argued that the kids easily showed how vulnerable the American 50-state election system had proven to be. She said:
‘To me that statement says that the secretaries of states are not taking this seriously. Although it’s not the real voting results it’s the results that get released to the public. And that could cause complete chaos. The site may be a replica but the vulnerabilities that these kids were exploiting were not replicas, they’re the real thing. I think the general public does not understand how large a threat this is, and how serious a situation that we’re in right now with our democracy.’
These were the DEFCON voting machine hacks summaries:
‘Here’s the DefCon Voting Machine Hacking Village roundup of discoveries for the day! ‘
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