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.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Everett
Everett gets state Auditor’s Office stewardship award

State Auditor Pat McCarthy presented the award during the most recent Everett City Council meeting.

Representative Rick Larsen speaks at the March For Our Lives rally on Saturday, June 11, 2022 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Larsen to hold community meeting in Everett on Monday

The veteran Democratic lawmaker will address recent legislation passed by Congress and other topics.

King County map logo
U.S. 2 closed near Skykomish again due to Bolt Creek fire

A 1-mile stretch of U.S. 2 was closed in both… Continue reading

FILE - Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., speaks during a news conference the vote to codify Roe v. Wade, in this May 5, 2022 file photo on Capitol Hill in Washington. Murray is one of the U.S. Senate's most powerful members and seeking a sixth term. She is being challenged by Tiffany Smiley, a Republican from Pasco, Wash. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)
Providence continues to face questions about hospital debt collection

The hospital group has pushed back against the notion that Providence “intentionally takes advantage of those who are vulnerable.”

Officers working in North Everett located and arrested the suspect from a June 20 shooting that left two dead and one injured in the 2000 block of Lexington. (Everett Police Department)
Everett triple shooting suspect tied to another homicide

A search warrant points to Shayne Baker, 26, as the suspect in the killing of Scott Pullen at a storage facility in Everett.

People gather outside of the new Northwest Carpenters Institute building prior to a grand opening celebration Thursday, Sep. 29, 2022, in Burlington, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Building a workforce: Northwest Carpenters expand training center

About 160 Snohomish County tradespeople take the apprentice classes in Burlington center. There’s ample room to grow.

A Coast Guard cutter searches for a crashed chartered floatplane near Mutiny Bay Monday afternoon in Freeland, Washington on September 5, 2022.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
5 more bodies recovered from floatplane crash off Whidbey

About 80% of the plane, including the engine, was recovered using remotely operated vessels.

Students make their way after school at Edmonds-Woodway High School on March 12, 2020. All public and private schools in Snohomish, King and Pierce counties must close for six weeks. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Police: Student, 15, arrested with loaded gun at Edmonds high school

Around 1 p.m., students reported a classmate with a gun at Edmonds-Woodway High School.

Carolanne Warren directs her mother through the ruts on Mt. Pilchuck Road Wednesday afternoon in Granite Falls, Washington on September 7, 2022.   (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
To get to iconic Pilchuck lookout, hikers must brave ‘hell on wheels’

Mount Pilchuck is one of the most beloved hikes in the region. The 7-mile pothole-riddled road to get there? Not so much.

Most Read