Hacker breaks into Mac at security conference

$10,000 prize for the CanSecWest challenge winner

April 20, 2007 (IDG News Service) — A hacker managed to break into a Mac and win a $10,000 prize as part of a contest started at the CanSecWest security conference in Vancouver.

In winning the contest, he exposed a hole in Safari, Apple Inc.’s browser. “Currently, every copy of OS X out there now is vulnerable to this,” said Sean Comeau, one of the organizers of CanSecWest.

The conference organizers decided to offer the contest in part to draw attention to possible security shortcomings in Macs. “You see a lot of people running OS X saying it’s so secure and frankly Microsoft is putting more work into security than Apple has,” [well, duh — that’s because IE is an insecure piece of junk!] said Dragos Ruiu, the principal organizer of security conferences including CanSecWest.

Initially, contestants were invited to try to access one of two Macs through a wireless access point while the Macs had no programs running. No attackers managed to do so, and so conference organizers allowed participants to try to get in through the browser by sending URLs via e-mail.

Dino Di Zovie, who lives in New York, sent along a URL that exposed the hole. Since the contest was only open to attendees in Vancouver, he sent it to a friend who was at the conference and forwarded it on.

The URL opened a blank page but exposed a vulnerability in input handling in Safari, Comeau said. An attacker could use the vulnerability in a number of ways, but Di Zovie used it to open a back door that gave him access to anything on the computer, Comeau said.

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