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DNC-led Def Con event tests election websites against child hackers

The kid that devises the best cybersecurity strategy will win $2,500.
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zefart via Getty Images

At the Def Con hacker conference next week, the Democratic National Committee is co-sponsoring a contest that will pit child hackers against replicas of state government websites, Wired reports. Kids between the ages of eight and 16 will try to break into replicas of the websites secretaries of state use to post election results, and the one that devises the best defensive strategy will win $500 from the DNC. Another $2,000 will be awarded to whoever can penetrate a site's defenses. The University of Chicago and a non-profit called r00tz Asylum that offers cybersecurity lessons for children are also sponsoring the event.

The DNC has had its share of cybersecurity issues to deal with, most notably the hack of its servers ahead of the 2016 election. The fiasco led to an increased focus on security, including the hiring of ex-Twitter VP Raffi Krikorian as CTO as well as former Yahoo security chief Bob Lord as chief security officer. A number of 2018 election campaigns have already been targeted by cyberattacks, which highlights just how important this work still is. So with all of that in mind, why recruit children to protect state websites? Jake Braun, a former Department of Homeland Security employee and an organizer of the contest, told Wired that these state election websites have such poor security that adult hackers "would laugh us off the stage if we asked them to do this."

Krikorian told Wired that this type of hacking is indeed "seriously low-hanging fruit," but regardless, local election officials approach the DNC frequently, inquiring as to how they should protect their websites and voter databases. While the DNC provides those that ask with basic steps to take, like changing passwords and using two-factor authentication, there are thousands of races in progress around the country and the DNC has to prioritize which campaigns it focuses on. But local election officials shouldn't be relying on the DNC anyway. "If they're reaching out to the party asking for advice, it sounds like they're not getting the right advice from the government or any three-letter agencies," Krikorian told Wired.

Ultimately, those behind the contest hope it brings more awareness to election security. Wired reports that dozens of local election officials plan to visit the Voting Village -- a returning event in which adults attempt to hack into voting machines -- but while invitations were extended to the Republican National Committee, it has yet to respond.

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