Feeds

So what's the easiest box to hack - Vista, Ubuntu or OS X?

CanSecWest's Pwn2Own contest returns

SANS - Survey on application security programs

This story was updated to correct the maximum prize amount available.

Tired of all the knee-jerk banter from fanboys about whose operating system is the most secure? So are the organizers of the CanSecWest security conference, which will be held in Vancouver later this month. And with a contest awarding as much as $20,000 worth of prizes, they're likely to breathe fresh life into a stale debate.

This year's Pwn2Own competition will place three brand-new, fully patched laptops side by side: a Fujitsu U810 running Vista Ultimate, a Vaio VGN-TZ37Cn running Ubuntu 7.10 and a MacBook Air running Leopard. The first person to remotely run code on each one gets to take the machine home, and is can be entered into the running for an award potentially worth $20,000 from TippingPoint, whose Zero Day Initiative pays bounties to researchers for responsibly disclosing vulnerabilities.

At last year's Pwn2Own contest, conference organizers challenged attendees to hack into one of two fully patched MacBookPros to claim the machine and a $10,000 bounty from TippingPoint. Security guru Dino Dai Zovi, spent less than 12 hours doing just that, crafting a QuickTime exploit that allowed him to take complete control of the machine.

CanSecWest's Pwn2Own contests are useful because they allow us to isolate the technical strengths and weaknesses of a given platform from its popularity. Acrimonious debate has fomented for years about whether the high number of real-world Windows exploits - compared to those of OS X, Linux and other operating systems - is a natural consequence of having a 90-percent chunk of the market or the result of sloppy and insecure coding practices at Microsoft.

There's at least some merit to the argument that organized cyber crime gangs - just like makers of popular games Half-Life 2 and Crysis - don't write for the Mac and Linux because the smaller market shares make it impossible to get a return on the investment. The Pwn2Own contest, by offering a considerable incentive for exploits of these platforms, helps to neutralize the economic variable.

"These computers are REAL and FULLY patched," conference organizer Dragos Ruiu wrote in an email announcing the rules. "All third party software is widely used. There are no imitation vulnerabilities. Any exploit successfully used in this contest would also compromise a significant percentage of the internet connected hosts."

The rules for this year's contest include:

  • Limit one laptop per contestant
  • The same vulnerability can't be used against more than one box
  • Attacks will be performed using a cross-over cable (with the attacker controlling the default route) or using radio-frequency by special arrangement.
  • Winning exploits must target a previously unknown vulnerability; vulns that have already been reported to the affected software maker or a third party are not eligible.

Each of the machines will include widely deployed applications, including web browsers (Internet Explorer, Safari, Konqueror and Firefox), instant messengers (AIM, MSN, Yahoo, Adium, Skype and Pigdin) and email clients (Outlook, Mail.app, Thunderbird, kmail, mutt).

El Reg will be attending CanSecWest, which runs from March 26-29. We are willing to trade beer for scoops or livers. ®

Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction

More from The Register

next story
Parent gabfest Mumsnet hit by SSL bug: My heart bleeds, grins hacker
Natter-board tells middle-class Britain to purée its passwords
Samsung Galaxy S5 fingerprint scanner hacked in just 4 DAYS
Sammy's newbie cooked slower than iPhone, also costs more to build
Obama allows NSA to exploit 0-days: report
If the spooks say they need it, they get it
Web data BLEEDOUT: Users to feel the pain as Heartbleed bug revealed
Vendors and ISPs have work to do updating firmware - if it's possible to fix this
Snowden-inspired crypto-email service Lavaboom launches
German service pays tribute to Lavabit
One year on: diplomatic fail as Chinese APT gangs get back to work
Mandiant says past 12 months shows Beijing won't call off its hackers
Call of Duty 'fragged using OpenSSL's Heartbleed exploit'
So it begins ... or maybe not, says one analyst
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a defence for mobile apps
In this whitepaper learn the various considerations for defending mobile applications; from the mobile application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies needed to properly assess mobile applications risk.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.