August 12 at 3:10 PM

LAS VEGAS — As Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) toured the Voting Village on Friday at Def Con, the world’s hacker conference extraordinaire, a roomful of hackers applied their skills to voting equipment in an enthusiastic effort to comply with the instructions they had been given: “Please break things.”

Armed with lock-pick kits to crack into locked hardware, Ethernet cables and inquiring minds, they had come for a rare chance to interrogate the machines that conduct U.S. democracy. By laying siege to electronic poll books and ballot printers, the friendly hackers aimed to expose weaknesses that could be exploited by less friendly hands looking to interfere in elections.

Wyden nodded along as Harri Hursti, the founder of Nordic Innovation Labs and one of the event’s organizers, explained that the almost all of the machines in the room were still used in elections across the United States, despite having well-known vulnerabilities that have been more or less ignored by the companies that sell them. Many had Internet connections, Hursti said, a weakness savvy attackers could abuse in several ways.

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