An 11-Year-Old Hacked A Fake Florida Website To Change Election Results & It’s Kinda Scary

ByMonica Busch
Matt Cardy/Getty Images News/Getty Images

By and large, each new generation has higher rates of technology literacy than the last, a product of simply growing up with greater access to electronics. But at a Las Vegas hacking convention, one boy made clear that his abilities extend far beyond simply helping older family members upload photos to Facebook. According to PBS, one boy, only 11 years old, hacked into mock Florida election sites and successfully altered voting results.

"These are very accurate replicas of all of the sites," Nico Sell, who helped organize the event, told the PBS NewsHour over the weekend. "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."

The event took place in a "hacking village," part of the larger DEFCON 26 hacking convention. About 50 children between the ages of eight and 16 participated in the event, and were given the opportunity to try hacking into and altering information on voting-related websites, according to PBS. The boy, identified as Emmett Brewer, successfully did so in under 10 minutes. Another girl, also 11 years old, reportedly did so in under 15.

Even before reports that two 11 year-olds hacked into a mock election site circulated, the National Association for Secretaries of States attempted to temper concern about election security. In a statement, they contended that the hacking took place in a "a pseudo environment which in no way replicates state election systems, networks or physical security."

"Providing conference attendees with unlimited physical access to voting machines, most of which are no longer in use, does not replicate accurate physical and cyber protections established by state and local governments before and on Election Day," NASS wrote.

They continued:

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.

While the young hackers' success at the conference doesn't necessarily mean that security for voting mechanisms will be compromised in the same way, there's no denying that the news raised some eyebrows.

"These websites are so easy to hack we couldn’t give them to adult hackers — they’d be laughed off the stage," former White House liaison for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Jake 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."

The weekend's conference comes as concern about foreign powers and their capacity to meddle in U.S. election remains as pressing as ever. U.S. intelligence agencies maintain that Russia interfered in the 2016 elections, and with the next round of midterms just around the corner, many are concerned that such interference will continue.

It's not clear whether any tangible changes will be made to enhance election security following the DEFCON hacking village event. But one thing is certainly clear — infiltrating important websites may be easier than the average person believes.