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Andcherla Marcelin, a Miami-Dade election support specialists, checks voting machines for accuracy. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The hacker conference DEF CON launched its second annual election hacking extravaganza on Friday after last year's conference led cybersecurity enthusiasts to discover several security flaws in election equipment and are poised to do the same thing again this year.

The big picture: One secretary of state argued at the event that the problem may be less about rediscovering how unsecure machines are, and more about getting the funding to do anything about it.

What they're saying: "We spend $700 billion for defense," California Secretary of State Alex Padilla told Axios. "Last week, the White House said that election security was a national security issue. For less than 1 tenth of 1%, Congress could make a world of difference."

The event: Padilla was one of several high profile attendees at this year's conference. He and Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for the Office of Cybersecurity and Communication Jeanette Manfra both spoke at the event and several Homeland Security cybersecurity experts participated in the hacking.

The background: Congress fronted $380 million for new election systems earlier this year — but that money came from a fund started more than a decade ago.

  • "The money Congress appropriated last month isn’t cybersecurity money, it’s still hanging chad money," said Padilla, who would later echo the remarks at a panel. "We need cybersecurity money."
  • Padilla noted that the changing cybersecurity landscape requires continually updated systems and replacing equipment. The one-time Congressional gift would not be enough for every state to make necessary repairs, let alone keep systems secure on any long-term basis.

State officials worry the hacking event will be misconstrued. The speed and thoroughness with which hackers tunneled into voting machines and a poll book last year received widespread press coverage.

  • On Thursday, the National Association of Secretaries of State said it supported the hacking event this year, but wanted to be clear the hacking did not accurately represent real world conditions.
"Providing conference attendees with unlimited physical access to voting machines...does not replicate accurate physical and cyber protections established by state and local governments. "

Hacking voting machines often needs to be done with physical access to each machine. Following proper security hygiene guidelines, including limiting access to machines, minimizes those threats.

  • Still, the DEF CON event is very useful, argue Manfra and Padilla. "I'd rather learn what to defend against here than from a hacker," said Padilla.

Go deeper

Virginia lawmakers vote to legalize marijuana in 2024

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam. Photo: Alex Edelman/Getty Images

Lawmakers in Virginia on Saturday approved compromise legislation that would legalize marijuana in 2024, putting the state a step closer to becoming the first in the South to end prohibition on the drug, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports.

Why it matters: The legislation will make Virginia the 16th state to legalize marijuana, per Politico. It would add to a slate of laws that have seen Virginia move in a more progressive direction during the tenure of Gov. Ralph Northam.

Scammers seize on COVID confusion

Data: FTC; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

Scamming has skyrocketed in the past year, and much of the increase is attributed to COVID-related scams, more recently around vaccines.

Why it matters: The pandemic has created a prime opportunity for scammers to target people who are already confused about the chaotic rollouts of things like stimulus payments, loans, contact tracing and vaccines. Data shows that older people who aren't digitally literate are the most vulnerable.

14 hours ago - Health

FDA authorizes Johnson & Johnson's one-shot COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use

Photo: Illustration by Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Food and Drug Administration on Saturday issued an emergency use authorization for Johnson & Johnson's one-shot coronavirus vaccine.

Why it matters: The authorization of a third coronavirus vaccine in the U.S. will help speed up the vaccine rollout across the country, especially since the J&J shot only requires one dose as opposed to Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech's two-shot vaccines.