At Def Con, children show how easy it can be to hack an election

The security of voting machines and government databases has long been a topic of concern among cybersecurity experts and officials. However, the danger is still very real, and Def Con, an annual hacker’s convention meeting in Las Vegas, is hoping to shed some light on the problem.

One group set up a number of voting booths inside Caesar’s Palace hotel and casino and asked the convention’s attendees to see what they could do with the machines. The results ranged from amusing to somewhat alarming. As CNN recounts, one hacker was able to make a voting booth play music and display basic animations.

Turning a voting machine into an MP3 player is kind of neat, but that, obviously, isn’t where the real danger is. The bigger concern is about how easy it might be to manipulate votes and impact the outcome of an election. So how easy is it? Well, it turns out that is literal child’s play. The organizers of Vote Hacking Village told the Register that they had to bring children in because adults would find it far too easy.

In order to demonstrate this, Def Con recruited Brian Markus to create replicas of government election result websites. Markus has been part of Def Con for years and previously severed on the President’s National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee. Aside from Markus,  engineers from secure-communications platform Wickr were brought on to help with the design. Throughout the course of the event, 47 children took part in the event and 87 percent of them managed to breach the replica sites.

“The really important reason why we’re doing this is because we’re not taking the problem serious enough how significantly someone can mess with our elections,” Wickr founder Nico Sells told Tech Crunch. “And by showing this with 8-year-old kids we can call attention to the problem in such a way that we can fix the system so our democracy isn’t ruined.”

Despite these concerns, a statement issued by the National Association of Secretaries of State cautioned against reading too much into this demonstration. The organization praised Def Con for its work in raising awareness of this issue but expressed skepticism regarding the accuracy of the replica websites.

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