(Adds comment from Verified Voting official)
LAS VEGAS, July 28 (Reuters) - Hackers attending this weekend's Def Con hacking convention in Las Vegas were invited to break into voting machines and voter databases in a bid to uncover vulnerabilities that could be exploited to sway election results.
The 25-year-old conference's first "hacker voting village" opened on Friday as part of an effort to raise awareness about the threat of election results being altered through hacking.
Fears of digital election interference have grown since the end of last year, when top U.S. intelligence agencies said they determined that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered the hacking of Democratic Party emails to help Republican Donald Trump win the Nov. 8 election.
A U.S. Department of Homeland Security official told Congress in June that Russian hackers targeted 21 U.S. state election systems in the 2016 presidential race and a small number were breached, but there was no evidence any votes were manipulated.
Russia has consistently denied all such accusations.
The genie is out of the bottle," Def Con founder Jeff Moss said in an interview. "The age of interference in voting has arrived on a large scale through electronics."
Barbara Simons, president of the non-profit advocacy group Verified Voting askers hackers attending the village to help her group pull together evidence showing flaws in electronic voting equipment.
We need to be able to show there are major problems with these machines," she said.
Hackers were given a rare chance to try to break into more than 30 pieces of election equipment, including types of voting machines and digital poll books that are currently in use.
The village also offered a "cyber range" simulator where "blue teams" are tasked with defending a mock voter registration database from "red team."
The village is open to the more than 20,000 people expected at this year's Def Con convention.
Jake Braun, one of the village's organizers, said he believed the talks and hands-on work would convince participants that election results are not immune to hacking.
"Theres been a lot of claims that our election system is unhackable. That's BS," said Braun. "Only a fool or liar would try to claim that their database or machine was unhackable."
The voting village is one of about a dozen interactive areas where participants can study and practice hacking. Others areas include automobiles, cryptology, healthcare, lockpicking and wireless networks. (Reporting by Jim Finkle in Las Vegas; Editing by Joseph Radford and Bernadette Baum)