River O’Connor, 17, at the Sky Valley Education Center on Sept. 7, 2018 in Monroe, Wa. O’Connor is finishing up his last year at of running start at the Ocean Research College Academy and hopes to study political science in college. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

River O’Connor, 17, at the Sky Valley Education Center on Sept. 7, 2018 in Monroe, Wa. O’Connor is finishing up his last year at of running start at the Ocean Research College Academy and hopes to study political science in college. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Super Kid: He has his eye on a future in politics

River O’Connor already has made a splash with his computer skills.

MONROE — River O’Connor, 17, is a senior at the Sky Valley Education Center in Monroe. He’s also a Running Start student in the Ocean Research College Academy, or ORCA, at Everett Community College. Last month he wrote an article that was published in Politico magazine.

Question: Why did you decide to go to Sky Valley Education Center?

Answer: My parents and I were looking for a school that was more flexible with hours and the education style. Sky Valley has a lot more freedom of what kind of classes you want to take, and when …

I have a lot of hobbies and things I like to do, and a lot of extracurricular activities, which would not be as easy to do without the flexibility and environment that Sky Valley has given me.

Q: What activities?

A: I do the model United Nations program at Sky Valley. We go to annual conferences, the largest one being in Seattle with close to 1,000 attendees. I also attended the ACLU Summer Advocacy Institute in Washington, D.C., this summer.

Then, I go to DEF CON (a hacking convention). I’ve been going there for over five years, and from that experience I wrote the article for Politico, which got published a couple of weeks ago.

Q: When was DEF CON?

A: I went there from Aug. 6th to the 13th. The conference itself is only three or four days.

Q: What was the experience like this year?

A: This year there was a lot more focus on a number of issues, first and foremost being election security. The Voting Village (Simulated voting machines set up for hackers to break into) has been running for two years now, and they do a lot of … testing on old models of voting machines.

The Democratic National Committee was co-sponsoring an event with the youth division of DEF CON, and it was a competition to demonstrate how easy it is to tamper with the aspects of election infrastructure.

That wouldn’t be to say the DNC encourages in any way, shape or form the hacking of an election. The competition is to demonstrate how many problems there are with the system that was used in 2016.

Q: What sort of hacking did you do?

A: I did something a little outside of what the competition called for … I wrote down the IP address of the web server hosting the website for the competition, and I accessed it from my computer at a separate location. I started digging around … which caused the website to crash.

That wasn’t part of the competition. I came down and apologized. They were confused, because it wasn’t part of the competition. At first they thought it wasn’t me, then I did it again just to confirm that it was.

Q: So you weren’t supposed to be …

A: Doing some of the things that I did? Yeah. But they were OK with that. That’s sort of the point, to show how bad the infrastructure is.

… I wanted to know hypothetically, how much damage could I do? And the answer was … a fair amount.

Q: What sort of computer science training do you have?

A: I took Python programming in middle school, but never got into the technical aspects of coding and programming. I’m more interested in the political field, but I think it’s good for anyone who’s aspiring to work in government to be informed about technology.

Q: How was writing for the magazine?

A: They reached out to me. They heard about the story and wanted someone who had participated … They wanted it on the front page … and also featured on the Politico main website.

I wasn’t expecting the amount of success that it had. I was more than satisfied to share my experience and have a couple dozen people see it.

However, that was not the case. … It got shared by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Facebook, so obviously he and his staff saw it. That was unexpected but rather welcome.

Q: What was that like?

A: The article received a fair amount of criticism. A lot of people were saying it was fake or that because it was set up, I didn’t actually hack anything, which isn’t the point. … The point is to expose that there are flaws in election security infrastructure.

Q: What do you plan to do after graduating high school this spring?

A: I intend to apply to the University of Washington in Seattle.

I would like to get into politics and political science. I would like to work in policy advisement, diplomacy, ambassadorship, advocacy or possibly in the executive branch.

Stephanie Davey: 425-339-3192; sdavey@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @stephrdavey.

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