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New Targets, $2 Million in Prizes Announced for Pwn2Own 2018

Trend Micro’s Zero Day Initiative (ZDI) announced on Thursday that this year’s Pwn2Own hacking competition offers $2 million in cash and prizes, with several new pieces of software added to the list of targets.

Pwn2Own 2018 is scheduled to take place on March 14-16 alongside the CanSecWest conference in Vancouver, Canada. This year, ZDI has partnered with Microsoft for the event, and VMware has been announced as a sponsor.

This year’s categories are virtualization, web browsers, enterprise applications, servers, and the Windows Insider Preview challenge.

In the virtualization category, Pwn2Own 2018 introduces a new target, namely Oracle VirtualBox. Researchers can earn $35,000 and a $30,000 bonus if they can execute a privilege escalation via a Windows kernel vulnerability on the host. The base prize for VMware Workstation is $70,000 and for Microsoft Hyper-V it’s $150,000.

All major web browsers are targeted at Pwn2Own 2018. A sandbox escape can earn contestants $60,000 if it works on Chrome or Edge, $55,000 on Safari, and $40,000 on Firefox. Hackers can earn a bonus of $50,000-$70,000 if they combine their exploit with a virtual machine escape via a kernel privilege escalation vulnerability.

The targeted apps in the enterprise category are Adobe Reader, with a maximum prize of $90,000, Office 365 ProPlus, with a maximum prize of $50,000, and Microsoft Outlook, for which organizers are prepared to pay out up to $100,000. This will be the first time Outlook is a target at Pwn2Own.

In the servers category, there are no less than three new targets, including NGINX, Microsoft Windows SMB, and OpenSSL. Apache Web Server, the only target in this category in last year’s event, will remain on the list. Vulnerabilities in each of these pieces of software can earn researchers up to $100,000.

Since Microsoft is a partner of Pwn2Own 2018, it has asked ZDI to introduce a special category for some of its flagship pre-release security technologies in the latest Windows Insider Preview for Business running on Surface Book 2 devices.

Targets include Windows Defender Application Guard for Edge, Windows SMB, and the Windows Hyper-V client. Prizes range between $10,000 and $250,000.

As always, the contestant or team with the highest number of Master of Pwn points will earn 65,000 ZDI reward points, which are worth roughly $25,000. In addition, the first-round winner for each category can win a laptop.

At Pwn2Own 2017, ZDI paid out a total of $833,000 for 51 vulnerabilities, nearly double than the $460,000 earned by hackers in the previous year for only 21 new flaws. Given that this year’s prize pool is $2 million, double than what organizers offered last year, we can expect some interesting exploits.

Related: VMware Patches Flaws Disclosed at Pwn2Own

Related: Samsung, Apple, Huawei Phones Hacked at Mobile Pwn2Own

Related: Hackers Earn $200,000 for VM Escapes at Pwn2Own 2017

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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.