Researchers Uncover macOS and Safari Exploits at Pwn2Own 2018

The eighteenth annual CanSecWest security conference is underway in downtown Vancouver, Canada, where researchers are competing in the 11th Pwn2Own computer hacking contest for over $2 million in prizes.

Day one results have already been published over at the Zero Day Initiative website, with a couple of successful Mac-related exploits already appearing in the list of achievements.

Image via Zero Day Initiative

Samuel Groß of phoenhex returned to Pwn2Own to successfully hack Apple's desktop Safari browser. Groß used a JIT optimization bug in Safari, a macOS logic bug, and a kernel overwrite to execute code to successfully exploit the browser, earning himself $65,000 and six points towards Master of Pwn. The exploit also caused a text-based message to appear on a MacBook Pro's Touch Bar.

The achievement harks back to Groß's similar success at last year's event, where he targeted Safari with an escalation to root on macOS that allowed him and Niklas Baumstark to scroll a message on a MacBook Pro Touch Bar, earning them $28,000.

Another Safari exploit at Pwn2Own 2018 was initiated by Richard Zhu, who managed to bypass iPhone 7 security protocols with the help of two Safari bugs at November's Pwn2Own mobile event. However, this time Zhu failed to get his exploit chain working within the allotted 30-minute time limit.

Richard Zhu at Pwn2Own 2018 (Image via ZDI)

Unfazed, Zhu returned to wow the crowd with a Microsoft Edge exploit that used two use-after-free (UAF) bugs in the browser and an integer overflow in the kernel to successfully run his code with elevated privileges. The dramatic effort against the ticking clock earned him $70,000 and seven points towards Master of Pwn.

Apple representatives have attended the Pwn2Own contest in the past, and affected parties are made aware of all security vulnerabilities discovered during the contest so that they can be patched in future software updates.

The participating teams earned a total of $162,000 in prizes on day one, and the event resulted in three Apple bugs, two Oracle bugs, and three Microsoft bugs. Pwn2Own day two begins today at 10:00 a.m. Pacific and will involve additional exploit attempts against macOS and Safari.

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Security Researchers Use Wi-Fi and Safari Exploits to Breach iPhone 7 at Annual Mobile Pwn2Own Contest

Trend Micro's annual Mobile Pwn2Own contest took place in Tokyo, Japan today at the PacSec security conference, and security researchers spent the day attempting to hack into the iPhone 7, the Samsung Galaxy S8, the Google Pixel, and the Huawei Mate 9 Pro in an effort to win prizes totaling more than $500,000.


Apple's iPhone 7, running iOS 11.1, the latest version of the iOS 11 operating system, was successfully breached twice by Tencent Keen Security Lab. The first hack targeted a Wi-Fi bug and won the team $110,000 and 11 Master of Pwn points, while the second hack targeted the Safari Browser and earned Tencent Keen Security Lab $45,000 and 12 Master of Pwn points.
They used a total of four bugs to gain code execution and escalate privileges to allow their rogue application to persist through a reboot. They earned $60,000 for the WiFi exploit and added $50,000 for the persistence bonus - a total of $110,000 and 11 Master of Pwn points.

Tencent Keen Security Lab was on the clock once more as they targeted the Safari Browser on the Apple iPhone 7. It took them just a few seconds to successfully demonstrate their exploit, which needed only two bugs - one in the browser and one in a system service to allow their rogue app to persist through a reboot. As the second finisher in the Browser category, they earned half of the cash award at $45,000, but still earned the full 13 Master of Pwn points.
Security researcher Richard Zhu was also able to leverage two bugs to exploit the Safari browser and escape the sandbox to successfully run code on the iPhone 7, earning him $25,000 and 10 Master of Pwn points.

Along with the iPhone 7, researchers were able to find exploits for the Samsung Galaxy S8 and the Huawei Mate 9 Pro, earning a total of $350,000.

Trend Micro hosts Pwn2Own in an effort to promote its Zero Day Initiative, designed to reward security researchers for disclosing major vulnerabilities to tech companies like Apple and Google.

Pwn2Own continues on through tomorrow, so additional exploits may be uncovered. Apple representatives have been known to attend Pwn2Own competitions in past years, and all vulnerabilities discovered are disclosed to Apple. The company then has 90 days to produce patches for all iOS-related bugs before they're publicly disclosed.

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