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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

The DEF CON hacker conference's Voting Village event has become a testing ground for our national debate over voting security, referenced by Senate reports, several congressmen and even a presidential candidate (albeit incorrectly, see below). This year's version, happening next week, comes with some upgrades.

The big picture: Now in its third year, the event is traditionally one of the only places where many security researchers get a chance to audit the security of election systems.

Background: Voting Village burst onto the scene in 2017, when it took hackers only a matter of minutes to discover serious problems with machines.

  • That was despite it being the first time many of the hackers had seen the systems.
  • Restrictive contracts with states bar public third-party audits, but Voting Village beat the contract rules by purchasing flood-salvaged equipment from an insurance company.

This year, Voting Village has expanded its range of equipment, including election software researchers have not had a chance to audit and the first test of equipment designed specifically for security and public testing.

  • Cybersecurity firm Galois will demonstrate a project funded by DARPA, the Pentagon's advanced research arm, to develop hardware that defends against hackers that target memory.
  • Galois is publicly revealing system internals to try to aid DEF CON's hackers.

What they're adding: While in previous years state election officials bristled at even well-meaning hackers intruding on their turf, this year Voting Village will launch the "Unhack the Ballot" initiative, pairing state officials with researchers who can offer nuts and bolts advice.

  • The conference is also expanding from one day of talks to three days.

For the kids: In last year's DEF CON, Voting Village helped with the conference's program for kids, developing faux election registration websites with errors previously seen on real sites for children to learn to hack.

  • This tale got garbled in the media as children hacking actual election websites or exact facsimiles of the sites (they didn't). Presidential candidate and representative Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) regularly notes that "an 11 year old girl at DEFCON hacked a replica of Florida’s voting system in 10 minutes."

Voting Village is working with kids again, although this year trying to be clearer about what the kids are actually doing.

  • This year's faux websites will be campaign finance reporting portals, where kids will create fake news to unleash using bots on a fake version of Twitter.
  • They'll also learn about how to use machine learning to create filters that can block the fake news they've spread on that fake network.

Go deeper

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Photo: Sheldon Cooper/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Two Canadians imprisoned by the Chinese government for over 1,000 days have been released and are expected to arrive in Canada on Saturday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday.

Why it matters: Their release comes hours after Huawei Technologies CFO Meng Wanzhou reached a deal with the U.S. Department of Justice that resolves the criminal charges against her and could pave the way for her to return to China.

Updated 7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Arizona GOP's private recount of 2020 election confirms Biden's win

Contractors working on behalf of the GOP examine and recount 2020 ballots at Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix in May. Photo: Courtney Pedroza/Getty Images

In an odd coda to the 2020 election, private contractors conducting a GOP-commissioned recount in Arizona confirmed President Biden’s win in Maricopa County.

Why it matters: The unofficial, party-driven recount has been heavily covered on cable news as part of former President Trump's continued effort to sow doubt about the election result.

Del Rio bridge camp empty following Haitian migrant surge

A boy bathes himself in a jug of water inside a migrant camp at the U.S.-Mexico border on Sept. 21 in Del Rio, Texas. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

The last migrants camping under the Del Rio International Bridge, which connects Texas and Mexico, departed on Friday, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced during a White House press briefing.

Driving the news: Thousands of migrants, mostly from Haiti, had arrived to the makeshift camp after crossing the southern border seeking asylum. Roughly 1,800 migrants will now head to U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing centers.