notified customers Friday that it will release several security
patches next Tuesday, two of which pertain to Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7 as well as Windows Server 2003 and 2008. Another patch will fix a vulnerability in an Office collaboration
component called Microsoft Groove 2007.
Some observers were surprised that Microsoft's next Patch Tuesday won't include patches for Internet Explorer. At next week's fifth annual Pwn2Own competition at the CanSecWest security conference in Vancouver, security experts will compete for prizes by attempting to breach the security of the latest Chrome, Firefox, IE and Safari browsers.
"Upcoming Microsoft patch day before PWN2OWN will not fix any IE vulnerabilities!" exclaimed France-based security research firm Vupen in a Friday tweet. "With or without a patch, Microsoft knows that IE will be PWNed!"
Squarely in the Crosshairs
Google and Mozilla issued a flurry of browser security updates earlier this week to strengthen Chrome and Firefox in advance of March 9 -- the opening day of the annual Pwn2Own contest. Sponsored by the Zero Day Initiative (ZDI) team at security research firm TippingPoint, Pwn2Own is held for the purpose of responsibly disclosing vulnerabilities so the affected vendors can prepare effective security patches.
"The competition will focus on two main technologies: Web browsers and mobile devices," noted Aaron Portnoy, manager of the security research team at TippingPoint. "Staying true to the original intent of the PWN2OWN contest, we intend to empirically demonstrate the current security posture of the most prevalent products in use today," he wrote in a blog.
Though this week's security update from Apple was squarely aimed at patching security vulnerabilities in iTunes, Apple is also widely expected to issue similar patches for Safari. According to a Thursday tweet from Vupen, which will be the first Pwn2Own contestant to attack Safari, Apple fixed a record 50 vulnerabilities in its iTunes WebKit this week "and is preparing the update for Safari/Mac OS X."
But as the second Pwn2Own competitor slated to target Internet Explorer next week, it's Microsoft which Vupen has in the crosshairs. "We discovered a new vulnerability in IE8/Windows 7 SP1 which allows the bypass of Protected Mode (IE sandbox)," Vupen security experts said in another tweet. "Maybe we will use it at Pwn2Own."
Hacking for Dollars
According to Portnoy, each browser will be installed on a 64-bit system running the latest version of either OS X or Windows 7. "A successful hack of IE, Safari or Firefox will net the competitor a $15,000 cash prize," Portnoy wrote in a blog.
For Chrome, this year's Pwn2Own contest will feature two separate competitions. "On day one, Google will offer $20,000 and the Cr-48 [laptop] if a contestant can pop the browser and escape the sandbox using vulnerabilities purely present in Google-written code," Portnoy explained. "If competitors are unsuccessful, on day two and three the ZDI will offer $10,000 for a sandbox escape in non-Google code and Google will offer $10,000 for the Chrome bug."
Pwn2Own contestants also will be aiming to win $15,000 cash prizes for exploiting the security measures built into a Dell Venue Pro smartphone running Windows Phone 7, an iPhone 4 running iOS, a BlackBerry Torch 9800 running BlackBerry OS 6, and a Nexus S smartphone running Android.
"A successful attack against these devices must require little to no user interaction and must compromise useful data from the phone," Portnoy explained. "Any attack that can incur cost upon the owner of the device -- such as silently calling long-distance numbers, eavesdropping on conversations, and so forth -- is within scope."