The results of the CanSecWest 2009 PWN2OWN hacking contest are in. And guess what? The hackers won, and the browsers lost -- the lone exception being Google Chrome. Hackers successfully compromised fully patched Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Safari browsers, all using exploits that required the local user to load a malicious Web site. Today, that's how 99.999 percent of exploits happen.
Dr. Charlie Miller, whom I've met a few times at Black Hat conferences in Las Vegas, took down the Apple Safari browser running on an Apple computer. Most reports said he did it in 10 seconds, but Dr. Miller later confirmed that he had the specific exploit in mind since last year's contest, but kept it secret so he could claim another cash prize and new computer. It's a bit like asking an artist how long it took him to paint a particular painting. "My whole life," the artist should respond, if he includes experience and practice in the equation. Check out this great interview with Dr. Miller for more.
[ Cut straight to the key news for technology development and IT management, with our once-a-day summary of the top tech news. Subscribe to the InfoWorld Daily newsletter. ]
Dr. Miller's exploit was quickly followed by Nils (only the first name was given), who also exploited Safari, this time on Windows Vista, followed by successful exploits against Internet Explorer and Firefox. Nils too was going home with a nice cash prize and computer. I understand he is looking for a job and using CanSecWest as part of his interview.
Google's Chrome was the only browser the hackers did not break. Dr. Miller said that he had Chrome exploits but couldn't leverage the exploits into something useful. Kudos to the Google team! I wrote about the enhanced security model Chrome uses in my security review of Internet browsers earlier this year. I gave Chrome high marks for the base security model but slammed it for some basic mistakes.
I'm a little sad that Opera was not involved in the contest. It doesn't get enough respect, although I'm not sure if Opera's makers really want it exposed to a no-holds-barred battle test. The odds aren't good for any browser in money-for-bugs competition.