TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Child's play or a signs of a serious security problem in one of the nation's swing states?
That's the question confronting Florida election officials who are pushing back against reports that an 11-year-old hacked a replica of the state's election website.
Multiple media outlets over the weekend reported that children at a hacking conference in Las Vegas were able to easily hack into a version of the website that reports election results to the public. An 11-year-old boy got into Florida's site within 10 minutes, while an 11-year-old girl did it in 15 minutes, according to the organizers of the event called DEFCON Voting Machine Hacking Village.
State officials contend there's no way the replica used by hackers is an actual representation of the state's website.
"This was a mock site with likely very few, if any, security measures in place," said Sarah Revell, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Ken Detzner. "It is not a real-life scenario and it offers a wholly inaccurate representation of the security of Florida's elections websites, online databases and voting systems that does not take into account the state-of-the-art security measures the Florida Department of State has in place to prevent any possible hacking attempts from being successful."
Florida's election website that displays results is not connected to the actual local election systems responsible for tabulating votes. Instead, on election night supervisors upload unofficial results to state officials through a completely different network.
Still if someone was able to manipulate the website it could create confusion and sow doubts about the actual results once they were announced. Investigators in May found evidence of a "malicious intrusion" into a Tennessee county's elections website from a computer in Ukraine during a concerted cyberattack, which likely caused the site to crash just as it was reporting vote totals during a primary.
Nico Sell, one of the organizers of the event, told PBS Newshour on Sunday that the replicas used at the conference were accurate representations.
"The site may be a replica but the vulnerabilities that these kids were exploiting were not replicas, they're the real thing," the television network quoted her as saying. "I think the general public does not understand how large a threat this is, and how serious a situation that we're in right now with our democracy."