Ubuntu Linux Falls On Day 1 Of Pwn2Own Hacking Competition

The Pwn2Own hacking competition began on March 15, and security researchers have already successfully exploited Ubuntu Linux, Microsoft Edge, Apple Safari and Adobe Reader.

In total, Trend Micro’s Zero Day Initiative (ZDI), which operates the contest, has awarded researchers $233,000 for their efforts.

The Pwn2Own 2017 event marks the 10th year for the annual hacking competition and is once again being held at the CanSecWest Conference in Vancouver.


While Pwn2Own has always taken aim at web browsers, the 2017 event is the first that provided Linux, and specifically the Ubuntu 16.10 Linux distribution, as a target. Researchers did not shy away from Linux’s first time at Pwn2Own, taking direct aim at the open-source operating system.

“The Chaitin Security Research Lab (@ChaitinTech) welcomes Ubuntu Linux to Pwn2Own with a Linux kernel heap out-of-bound access,” ZDI wrote in a blog post.

For its efforts, the Chaitin Security Research Lab was awarded a $15,000 prize. Abdul Hariri, senior vulnerability researcher with ZDI, confirmed to eWEEK that the flaw found was in the Linux 4.8 kernel used by the Ubuntu 16.10 distribution that was hacked on stage at Pwn2Own.

The flaw itself was triggered by a researcher who only had basic user access but was able to elevate privileges with the vulnerability to become the root administrative account user.

Ubuntu Linux security

Typically with any vulnerability that is publicly shown at Pwn2Own, onsite vendor representatives are privately provided the full details of any demonstrated flaw. Hariri said that ZDI will be disclosing the kernel issue to Canonical, the lead commercial sponsor of Ubuntu, though he noted that there was no representative from Canonical at the Pwn2Own event.

In addition to the Ubuntu Linux attack target, the Pwn2Own 2017 event also listed Apache Web Server running on Ubuntu 16.10 Linux as a potential target, with a prize of $200,000 for a successful exploit. Dustin Childs, director of communication for ZDI, told eWEEK that no one has registered to take aim at the Apache/Ubuntu target.

Chaitin Security Research Lab didn’t stop after successfully exploiting Ubuntu. It was also able to successfully demonstrate a chain of six bugs in Apple Safari, gaining root access on macOS. ZDI awarded Chaitin Security Research Lab $35,000 for the Apple exploits.

Researchers from the 360 Security team, meanwhile, earned a $50,000 award for chaining a pair of Microsoft Windows vulnerabilities together to demonstrate a remote code execution flaw in Adobe Reader.

Tencent Security also took aim at Adobe Reader, exploiting a new use-after-free vulnerability to gain code execution, earning a reward of $25,000 from ZDI. In addition, Tencent was able to exploit the Microsoft Edge browser by using a logic bug to escape the browser sandbox, resulting in an award of $80,000.

Researchers Samuel Groß and Niklas Baumstark earned $28,000 for what ZDI called a “partial win” in an attack against Apple Safari and macOS.

“They employed a use-after-free in Safari combined with three logic bugs and a null pointer dereference to exploit Safari and elevate to root in macOS,” Childs told eWEEK. “Unfortunately, the UAF was corrected by the beta version of the browser, earning them only the partial win.”

Pwn2Own continues through March 17, as more researchers will attempt to demonstrate additional zero-day exploits to claim more of ZDI’s award money.

Originally published on eWeek

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWeek and contributor to TechWeek

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