Google Pays $40,000 for Partial Chrome OS Exploit

A researcher going by the name “Pinkie Pie” was awarded prize money for developing a partial exploit for Chrome during the Pwnium hacking contest.

Google will pay a security researcher $40,000 for a partial exploit of its Chrome OS.

The researcher, who goes by the alias "Pinkie Pie," targeted the operating system at the Pwnium 3 hacking competition March 7 at the CanSecWest conference in Vancouver, Canada. CanSecWest also hosts the annual Pwn2Own competition operated by Hewlett-Packard TippingPoint's DVLabs.

"This year's participants once again impressed us with their talent and security prowess," blogged Chris Evans, chief reward officer at Google. "We're excited about what lessons we can learn from their work to make Chrome and Chrome OS even more secure."

Though Google did not receive any winning entries at Pwnium, it reserved the right to issue "partial" rewards at the contest. According to Evans, Pinkie Pie submitted a "plausible bug chain involving video parsing, a Linux kernel bug and a config file error." However, the submission included an unreliable exploit for demonstrating one of the bugs. Most of the bugs have already been fixed, Evans noted.

"In particular, we'd like to thank Pinkie Pie for honoring the spirit of the competition by disclosing a partial exploit at the deadline, rather than holding on to bugs in lieu of an end-to-end exploit," Evans wrote. "This means that we can find fixes sooner, target new hardening measures and keep users safe."

In 2012, Pinkie Pie won a total of $120,000 from Pwnium contests, including $60,000 he won at the very first Pwnium competition at CanSecWest in March 2012, when he used multiple vulnerabilities to take down Chrome. He won another $60,000 with a Chrome browser exploit at the second-ever Pwnium competition in Malaysia in October 2012.

This year, Google offered a total of more than $3.14 million in rewards for a hack of Chrome OS, with $150,000 being the maximum prize for a single successful attack.

The contest was held in parallel to Pwn2Own, which featured researchers targeting various browsers and plug-ins, including the Chrome browser, which was exploited by researchers "Nils" and Jon Butler of MWR Labs.

"Of the two bugs used, one bug was in Chrome code, which we fixed in 24 hours," Evans blogged. "Thankfully, recently deployed hardening measures protected Chrome OS users. The second bug was in the Windows kernel. The new Pwn2Own rules required the researcher to hand the bug and exploit over to Microsoft, so we're delighted that the Chrome entry will make other products safer, beyond just Chrome."

All totaled, security researchers that participated in Pwn2Own won $480,000 in cash prizes for exploiting Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox and Chrome, as well as Oracle Java, Adobe Flash Player and Adobe Reader.

"While these security gatherings and live competitions are fun, we also want to highlight the ongoing Chromium Vulnerability Reward Program, which covers not only the Chrome desktop browser, but also all Chrome OS components and Chrome on mobile devices," he said. "We've given away more than $900,000 in rewards over the years, and we're itching to give more, as engaging the security community is one of the best ways to keep all Internet users safe."