All five smartphones survive PWN2OWN hacker contest

One researcher refused to part with iPhone bug for $10k, says contest sponsor.

None of the five smartphones slated for attack at last week's PWN2OWN hacking contest were compromised, a sign that security researchers have yet to adapt to the limitations of mobile, said the company that put up the prize money.

"With the mobile devices so limited on memory and processing power, a lot of [researchers'] main exploit techniques are not able to work," said Terri Forslof, manager of security response at 3Com Inc.'s TippingPoint.

Although three of the four browsers up for grabs at PWN2OWN quickly fell to a pair of researchers -- netting one of them US$5,000, the other $15,000 -- none of the smartphones was successfully exploited. TippingPoint had offered US$10,000 for each exploit of any of the phones, which included Apple Inc.'s iPhone and the Research in Motion Ltd. (RIM) BlackBerry, as well as phones running the Windows Mobile, Symbian and Android operating systems.

"Take, for example, [Charlie] Miller's Safari exploit," said Forslof, referring to Miller's 10-second hack of a MacBook via an unpatched Safari vulnerability that he'd known about for more than a year. "People wondered why wouldn't it work on the iPhone, why didn't he go for the $10,000?" she said. "The vulnerability is absolutely there, but it's a lot tougher to exploit on the iPhone."

Even though there were no takers last week, Forslof said TippingPoint is planning to offer a mobile component to next year's PWN2OWN, which is held at the CanSecWest security conference in Vancouver, British Columbia each March. "Where there is an opportunity, our [security] community finds a way," she said. "I am expecting, absolutely, that the research community will find ways around the limitations of mobile.

"I'm feeling pretty confident that those barriers to exploit mobile will be overcome in the next year," Forslof added.

Another issue TippingPoint identified in the inaugural mobile hacking contest were the unexpected complications that the possible combinations of handsets, operating systems and carriers introduced into the exploit equation. "We didn't realize how complicated it was" until it was too late, she said. As a result, in some cases TippingPoint wasn't able to pin down the exact phone or operating system version early enough to give researchers the lead time they needed to work up an exploit of a vulnerability they might have already uncovered. "Mobile isn't the same as 'Here's a laptop and an OS on it'," said Forslof. "Each carrier has its own unique stuff going on with these phones."

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags RIMBlackberryiPhonepwn2own

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.
Gregg Keizer

Gregg Keizer

Computerworld
Show Comments

Father’s Day Gift Guide

Brand Post

Bitdefender 2019

Bitdefender’s best-in-class security solutions have been awarded Product of the Year. Get cybersecurity that 500 MILLION users already have and trust!

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?