PWN to OWN Contest at CanSecWest 2008

The PWN to OWN Contest is a hacking contest at the CanSecWest security conference that pits a standard install of Linux, Windows, and MacOS X against all comers. Each laptop has a default installation on it, and has not been hardened at all. The successful hacker will not only win a cash prize, but the system in question as well.

The MacBook Pro was the first to fall, and the laptop running Microsoft Vista Ultimate second. However, there will be those that misinterpret the results by not realizing how the contest was conducted.

Each contestant gets 30 minutes to attempt to crack the machine, and can choose which machine to attack. The attacks are limited by the rules, and each day that went by the rules allowed a wider range of attack vectors. It was a third party application (Adobe Flash) that permitted the compromise of the Microsoft Vista machine.

No part of the contest can be considered a scientific study into which system is more secure than the other: contestants attacked a single machine of choice, and contestants were allowed their attempts one at a time – and the operating system was not hardened.

This is entirely different than, for example, the Capture the Flag contest at DEFCON. That contest consists of setting up a server and trying to capture the other teams “flag” through compromising the server in some way. In that contest, any and all comers are permitted to enter and to attack at will during the contest with whatever vulnerabilities and methods they have available.

Speaking of DEFCON, DEFCON 9 saw the entrance of an Alpha-based VMS machine – installed with the standard setup – which remained unscathed throughout the contest, though try they did. The VMS Team (the Green Team) had a writeup and also wrote a white paper afterwards.

If you are interested in DEFCON, DEFCON 16 will be August 8-10 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Also, speaking of DEFCON – let’s not forget the similarly named but totally unrelated InterSystems DEVCON2008, which is just wrapping up. DEVCON, among other things, covers Caché development and related. It is interesting to note that InterSystems DEVCON began 15 years ago, whereas DEFCON began 16 years ago. I wonder how much Caché security is covered at DEVCON2008.

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