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Hackers Awarded $267,000 at Pwn2Own 2018

White hat hackers have earned a total of $267,000 at this year’s Pwn2Own competition for exploits targeting Microsoft Edge, Apple Safari, Oracle VirtualBox and Mozilla Firefox.

On the first day, Richard Zhu (aka fluorescence) failed to hack Safari, but he did demonstrate an exploit chain against Edge, which earned him $70,000. Niklas Baumstark from the Phoenhex team received $27,000 for hacking VirtualBox, while Samuel Groß (aka saelo) of Phoenhex earned $65,000 for hacking Safari.

Richard Zhu wins Pwn2Own 2018

On the second day of Pwn2Own 2018, Zhu earned $50,000 for hacking Firefox with an out-of-bounds read flaw in the browser and an integer overflow in the Windows kernel. Zhu actually won this year’s Master of Pwn award, taking home a total of $120,000 and 65,000 ZDI reward points worth roughly $25,000.

Employees of Ret2 Systems demonstrated an exploit chain targeting Safari, but they were successful only on the fourth attempt. Since Pwn2Own rules state that the exploit must be demonstrated in a maximum of three attempts, they did not win any money as part of the contest, but the Zero Day Initiative (ZDI) did purchase the vulnerabilities and disclosed them to Apple via its regular process.

Finally, a team from MWR Labs earned $55,000 for a Safari sandbox escape. They used a heap buffer overflow in Safari and an uninitialized stack variable in macOS to execute arbitrary code.

Pwn2Own 2018 was backed by Microsoft and VMware, and ZDI announced a prize pool of $2 million. The total of $267,000 awarded at the event was far less than in the past years when researchers earned $833,000 (2017), $460,000 (2016) and $552,500 (2015).

ZDI noted that some of the experts who had registered for the event were forced to withdraw due to various reasons, including the fact that Microsoft’s latest updates patched the vulnerabilities they had planned on using.

“While smaller than some of our previous competitions, the quality of research was still extraordinary and highlights the difficulty in producing fully-functioning exploit for modern browsers and systems,” ZDI said.

The highest prizes at Pwn2Own 2018 were offered by Microsoft, including for the Hyper-V client ($150,000), Outlook ($100,000), and Windows SMB ($100,000). The company also offered a total of more than $800,000 for exploits targeting Windows Defender Application Guard for Edge, Windows SMB, and the Hyper-V client running on the latest Windows Insider Preview for Business on a Surface Book 2 device.

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Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.