Hackers fear arms control pact makes exporting flaws illegal

'Wassenaar Arrangement' scaring infosec reserchers away from Pwn2Own contest

Export regulations that threaten to hinder vulnerability research and exploit development have put hackers on edge ahead of the annual Pwn2Own contest.

Operators of the hack-fest have reportedly issued an email warning to researchers to obtain legal advice about how the Wassenaar Arrangement, a 42-nation effort aimed at "promoting transparency and greater responsibility in transfers of conventional arms and dual-use goods and technologies", may affect their development of exploits for the contest.

Pwn2Own will this year be held at the CanSecWest security conference in Canada March 18 and 19. As ever, the event asks hackers to develop exploits and pop software in live demonstrations. Significant vulnerabilities would be purchased by organiser HP TippingPoint and delivered to respective vendors to have the holes sutured-up in a bid to get exploits 'off the streets'.

This year, however, would-be participants are worried that attending the event may see them fall foul of the Arrangement's controls on export of dual-use items that have military and civilian applications. The Arrangement's potential problems, outlined by the Chaos Computer Club to the European Parliament's Joint Public Hearing on Human rights and technologies, are explained (PDF) as an overly-broad interpretation of the Agreement that could mean merely speaking about infosec research abroad lands a hacker in trouble.

Concerns persisted despite some assurances that the intention of the Arrangement was not to catch legitimate security tools nor hinder research.

Each country can implement the non-binding Arrangement differently.

Chaouki Bekrar, former co-founder of exploit brokers Vupen, and other industry bods reported the email alert over Twitter.

"Exploits are export controlled items and participants should work with their legal counsel on proper handling," the Zero Day Initiative email was reported as saying.

The Zero Day Initiative has been contacted for comment.

The warning appears to have prompted some discussion about the possibility researchers may not participate and therefore leave zero day holes to fester in some of the world's most popular technology platforms.

That said, researchers could have other incentives to stay home; the value of cash prizes for exploits has shrunk across many categories while hacking complexity has risen for some fields.

"A successful remote attack against these targets must require no user interaction beyond the action required to browse to the malicious content and must occur within the user's session with no reboots, or log-offs [and] log-ons," the organisers wrote in a post.

The contest will reward hacks with US$75,000 for flaws for 64 bit Google Chrome; US$65,000 for 64 bit Microsoft Internet Explorer, and $60,000 for Adobe Reader or Flash running on that browser; US$30,000 for Mozilla Firefox, and US$50,000 for Apple's 64 bit Safari browser running on OS X Yosemite.

Those figures were down US$25,000 for Chrome, US$20,000 for Firefox, and US$15,000 for Safari.

Moreover, punters must get around Microsoft's popular Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit to score the cash, but will not get the grand prize of US$150,000 for landing system code execution on Internet Explorer 11 running on Windows 8.1 with the toolkit.

A further US$25,000 would be available for hackers gaining system code execution while Choc Factory would ooze US$10,000 for breaking version 42 of Chrome.

Hackers in with a chance at landing some of the cash should consider feeding some to the legal eagles to ensure they aren't stowed in airport security.

Vulture South will more closely examine the ramifications of the Arrangement in coming weeks. ®

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