This year's highlight of the DEFCON hacker conference was the voting village. The event created nearly real scenarios where people hacked into voting machines, changed results and hacked into replicas of state voting websites.
The event culminated in a group of kids, ages eight to 16 hacking into and changing election results on a replica of a state voting website. Emmett Brewer, 11, hacked the site in less than 10 minutes. An eight-year-old girl also did it, in 15 minutes.
Jake Braun, Executive Director of Cyber Policy initiative at the University of Chicago said he doesn't understand why people are not taking the threat against our elections seriously. Braun is also the co-founder of the Voting Village at DEFCON.
"[President] Trump's czar of cyber security was there, and he said, 'I'm glad you guys are doing this because we know our adversaries are doing this same thing.'"
When the children broke into the election websites, they were able to change party names, candidate names and change vote tallies. One hacker changed the name of a candidate to 'Bob da Builder' and gave him 12 billion votes.
Braun said since the 2016 elections, Congress has done nothing to safeguard our election process.
"[The Voting Village] is something we need to be working on every day of every year, not just once a year for a few days at a conference."
To protect elections, Braun said polling places need to first be using paper ballots. Second, he said there needs to be a way to monitor websites to see if they have been hacked. Braun also said the country needs to be investing around $5 billion to safeguard voting systems if elections going to be using them.
While the Voting Village highlighted a lot of problems, Braun said it also highlighted an encouraging future.
"When you walk around DEFCON it's very male-dominated, but almost half of the kid hackers were girls. I hope it's a sign the future of our industry is changing for the better."
The National Association of Secretaries of State disagreed with the findings from DEFCON's Voting Village. We are also concerned that creating “mock” election office networks and voter registration databases for participants to defend and/or hack is also unrealistic. 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. The NASS also said it would be willing to work with civic-minded hackers on the problem.
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