Preteens Hacked Replica of Florida Election Site in Minutes

(CN) – Organizers of a hackers conference claim two 11-year-olds broke into a replica of Florida’s election website over the weekend in just 15 minutes.

During the annual DefCon hackers conference in Las Vegas, an event called DefCon Voting Machine Hacking Village brought together dozens of children to try their computer skills on various voting machines and websites.

In a tweet after the event, organizers say an 11-year-old boy got inside an imitation of the Florida website that reports election results in only 10 minutes, while an 11-year-old girl reportedly hacked into the site in 15 minutes.

Thirty-five children were able to hack into the facsimiles of six secretary of state websites within 30 minutes, the organizers said.

But Florida’s election officials are quick to argue the elections website was not a replica, but merely a “mock site.”

“To be clear, it was a mock site – not a replica,” Sarah Revell, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Ken Detzner, told Courthouse News. “It is virtually impossible to create a replica of our website, because no one has the information needed to recreate all of the security measures that are in place – that information is confidential.”

Revell added that the website is “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,” she said.

The National Association of Secretaries of State voiced similar doubts about the hackers’ claims.

“Our main concern with the approach taken by DefCon is that it utilizes a pseudo environment which in no way replicates state election systems, networks or physical security,” a NASS spokesperson said in a statement.

“We are also concerned that creating ‘mock’ election office networks and voter registration databases for participants to defend and/or hack is also unrealistic,” the organization said. “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.”

Still, the hackers’ exploits may deepen Florida’s growing unease about voting security.

Last week, Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson told the Tampa Bay Times that Russians have “penetrated” the state’s election system.

He did not go into detail with the newspaper, leading his challenger, Republican Governor Rick Scott, to push back on the comments. State elections officials said they know nothing about it.

Russian hackers did target Florida during the 2016 elections along with 20 other states, but there has been no evidence they were successful. The hackers sent over 100 fake emails to election offices, according to a recent indictment.

Last month, Florida lawmakers accepted more than $19 million in federal money to strengthen voting systems.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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