Pwn2Own Researchers Exploit Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Edge and Tesla

Trend Micro's Zero Day Initiative awarded $510,000 in cash prizes to researchers who demonstrated new zero-day vulnerabilities, and one team of researchers was even able to win a Tesla Model 3 after exploiting the vehicle's browser-based infotainment system.

Pwn2Own Tesla

A fully patched Firefox was no match for researchers at the Pwn2Own competition, though Mozilla found itself up to the task and has already patched the two issues found in its web browser. Firefox wasn't the only thing hacked at Pwn2Own as researchers were also able to exploit the internet browser on a Tesla Model 3 as well.

Multiple issues in the Firefox 66 web browser, which was just released on March 19, were demonstrated at the Pwn2Own hacking competition on March 21. On March 22, Mozilla released the Firefox 66.0.1 update, providing fixes for both of the issues.

Pwn2Own is an annual hacking competition where researchers demonstrate new zero-day bugs and are awarded by Trend Micro's Zero Day Initiative (ZDI) for their efforts. On the first day of Pwn2Own 2019, ZDI awarded researchers $240,000 for demonstrating new vulnerabilities in Apple Safari, Oracle VirtualBox and VMware Workstation. The second day of the event saw researchers earn $270,000 for new flaws in Mozilla Firefox and Microsoft's Edge browser, while the event concluded on March 22 with the attempt on a Tesla Model 3 vehicle.

Researchers Amat Cama and Richard Zhu, working under the name Fluoroacetate, were awarded $50,000 for demonstrating a kernel escalation flaw in Firefox 66.

"Incorrect alias information in IonMonkey JIT compiler for Array.prototype.slice method may lead to missing bounds check and a buffer overflow," Mozilla warned in its security advisory.

Researcher Niklas Baumstark was also able to exploit Firefox 66.0 using a sandbox escape technique that earned him a $40,000 award.

"He [Baumstark] used a JIT bug in the browser followed by a logic bug to escape the sandbox," Dustin Childs, ZDI communications manager, wrote in a blog. "In a real-world scenario, an attacker could use this to run their code on a target system at the level of the logged-on user." 

Microsoft Edge

Two different research teams at Pwn2Own were able to demonstrate new zero-day attacks on the Microsoft Edge browser. The big prize for a Microsoft Edge exploit went to the Fluoroacetate team, which was awarded $130,000 for a complex attack chain.

"The Fluoroacetate team used a combination of a type confusion in Edge, a race condition in the kernel, and finally an out-of-bounds write in VMware to go from a browser in a virtual client to executing code on the host OS," Childs explained.

Arthur Gerkis of Exodus Intelligence was also able to exploit Microsoft Edge. Gerkis used what is known as a "double free" bug in combination with a logic bug to bypass the Edge sandbox. A double free bug is a type of memory corruption where the same piece of memory is freed twice, enabling an attacker to gain access.


While exploiting browsers and hypervisors on desktop systems has been core to the Pwn2Own competition for the past decade, the 2019 event also let researchers take a shot at the browser running on a Tesla Model 3.

The Fluoroacetate were able to successfully demonstrate a zero-day vulnerability in the Tesla Model 3 infotainment system and for their efforts they were awarded the vehicle.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.