11 years old Bianca Lewis has many hobbies. She likes Barbie, video games, fencing, singing and hacking the infrastructure behind the world’s most powerful democracy which is the American democracy.
She’s taking part in a competition organised by R00tz Asylum, a non-profit organisation that promotes “hacking for good”.
Its aim is to send out a dire warning: the voting systems that will be used across America for the mid-term vote in November is so insecure a young child can learn to hack them with just a few minute’s coaching.
“These are the websites that are very important because they report the election results to the public,” explained Nico Sell, the founder of R00tz Asylum.
“They also tell the public where to go to vote. You could imagine if either of these two things were changed, the chaos that would ensue.”
Hacking the real websites would be illegal. So instead, Ms Sell’s team created 13 sites that mimicked the real websites, gaping vulnerabilities and all, for 13 so-called “battleground” states – parts of the country where the vote is expected to be tight.
Over the course of a day, 39 kids aged between 8 and 17 took the challenge – 35 of them succeeded in bypassing the trivial security.
The first competitor to break in was 11-year-old Audrey Jones. It took her 10 minutes. The contest was part of the kids’ zone at Def Con, the annual hacking conference in Las Vegas. This year it was attended by more than 300 eager children, trying everything.
This year is the first time election hacking has been a theme. While the hacks learnt here wouldn’t change actual vote counts – even if carried out for real – they could alter how the vote results were displayed on official websites.