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Members of Team Shellphish watch the performance of their system at DEF CON. Photo: Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images

At this year's DEF CON, a cybersecurity conference in Las Vegas this week, children between 8 and 16 years old will race to hack state elections websites with voter registrations — or, at least, a fairly good replica thereof.

Why it matters: The testing systems replicate vulnerabilities used to hack the real websites across the country.

  • "Unfortunately, we're at a place where tampering with elections could be child's play," said Nico Sell, founder of DEF CON's "r00tz" children's program.

The intrigue: At last year's DEF CON, hackers given access to a variety of voting machines took less than five minutes to figure out how to hack them. State websites are obviously different but the recent vulnerabilities used by hackers are less complicated.

  • "We couldn't have the same competition for adults," said Sell, "because it would be way too easy."

R00tz — the adults behind it, not the kids — will be happy to help states looking to bulk up security.

  • DEF CON hosts an entire subconference devoted to election systems security.

What they're saying:

  • "We're hoping, as soon as they realize 8-year-old girls can hack the sites, states will begin to take more responsibility," said Sell.
  • "[The project got] a surprising amount of interest from the community to help kids learn the basics of hacking," said Rita Zolotova, policy director at the encrypted chat app Wickr and a r00tz staffer. Wickr also sponsors the event.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Rita Zolotova. It has been updated.

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Photo: Screenshot via C-SPAN

The House approved President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID relief package on a 219-212 vote early Saturday morning, sending it to the Senate for a possible rewrite before it gets to Biden's desk.

The big picture: The vote was a critical first step for the package, which includes $1,400 cash payments for many Americans, a national vaccination program, ramped-up COVID testing and contact tracing, state and local funding and money to help schools reopen.

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President Biden said Friday that "it's not the time to relax" coronavirus mitigation efforts and warned that the number of cases and hospitalizations could rise again as new variants of the virus emerge.

Why it matters: Biden, who made the remarks after touring a vaccination site in Houston, echoed CDC director Rochelle Walensky, who said earlier on Friday that while the U.S. has seen a recent drop in cases and hospitalizations, "these declines follow the highest peak we have experienced in the pandemic."

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