Pwn2Own – Incentivised Hacking

HP's annual Pwn2Own contest has been run and won. Critical flaws in every major browser, which allowed remote code execution, were found as well as issues with Adobe's Flash and Reader products.
Pwn2Own is a hacker contest that runs within the CanSecWest event in Vancouver. Hackers are offered cash prizes as incentives as well as donations of computer hardware and other prizes given to the security researchers.

Pwn2Own is part of HP's Zero Day Initiative, or ZDI. This is a program that rewards security researchers for responsibly disclosing vulnerabilities.

The contest co-sponsors, ZDI and Google, offered a total prize pool of $1,085,000. The two-day payout total to $850,000, not including charitable donations and other prizes given to the winning researchers.

More than a dozen different security flaws were found by the competitors.

  • Mozilla Firefox – four vulnerabilities were found that either allowed code execution, privilege escalation within the browser or bypassing browser security measures.
  • Adobe Flash – Two flaws were found that allowed remote code execution.
  • Adobe Reader - Two flaws were found that allowed remote code execution.
  • Microsoft Internet Explorer – Three bugs were found that resulted in being able to bypass the development sandbox.
  • Google Chrome – A flaw was found that resulted in sandbox bypass that allowed code execution.
  • Apple Safari – An issue was identified that allowed remote code execution.

The good news is that all of the flaws that were found were disclosed to their respective vendors in the Chamber of Disclosures with the expectation that each will be work to address those issues.
Providing financial incentives is growing in popularity in the fight between the opposing forces in the infosec world. In fact, it's behind the business model of companies like Bugcrowd. They have built their business around crowd-sourcing testers to find flaws in their clients' systems. The incentives for the testers are bounties that are offered by Bugcrowd's clients.

Some companies, like online backup service Tarsnap offer bounties as a way of detecting flaws so that they can protect their customers.

The detection and exploitation of security flaws if often financially driven. Competitions like Pwn2Own and companies like Bugcrowd tip the financial balance back towards ethical rather than criminal hacking. But until the incentives to find and fix potential security gaps start to become as attractive as the incentives to exploit those flaws, competitions like Pwn2Own will remain a small light in a very dark place.

This article is brought to you by Enex TestLab, content directors for CSO Australia.

Tags hackingMicrosoftVulnerabilitiesHPInternet ExplorerGoogle Chromeadobe flashmozilla firefoxpwn2ownapple safarihacker contestHPs Zero dayZDI

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