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MacBook Air Hacked In Two Minutes

Security researchers from Independent Security Evaluators managed to hack a MacBook Air using a zero-day vulnerability in Apple's Safari 3.1 Web browser.

Thomas Claburn

March 28, 2008

2 Min Read

Mac OS X's reputation for security was tarnished Thursday when a team of researchers from Independent Security Evaluators (ISE) managed to hack a MacBook Air in two minutes using a zero-day vulnerability in Apple's Safari 3.1 Web browser.

The ISE security researchers -- Charlie Miller, Jake Honoroff, and Mark Daniel -- were participating in the "PWN to OWN" competition at the CanSecWest security conference, which began Wednesday in Vancouver, British Columbia.

"Pwn" is computer gaming slang for "own," as in conquer. The "p" typo serves to heighten the humiliation of defeat by emphasizing that the loss came at the hands of a youth who can't even spell or type correctly. The term has also come to be used in security circles.

Contest participants had their choice of trying to hack an Apple MacBook Air running OS X 10.5.2, a Sony Vaio VGN-TZ37CN running Ubuntu 7.10, or a Fujitsu U810 running Vista Ultimate SP1. During the first day, when attacks were limited to network attacks on the operating system, no one managed to compromise any of the systems.

That changed Thursday when attacks on default client-side applications -- Web browser, e-mail, IM -- were allowed. The ISE team won $10,000 from security firm TippingPoint Technologies for compromising the MacBook Air.

The undisclosed vulnerability in Safari 3.1 has been shown to Apple and no further information about it will be revealed until Apple can issue an update, TippingPoint said.

In a blog post on Friday, TippingPoint said, "[S]ince the Vista and Ubuntu laptops are still standing unscathed, we are now opening up the scope of the targets beyond just default installed applications on those laptops; any popular third-party application (as deemed 'popular' by the judges) can now be installed on the laptops for a prize of $5,000 upon a successful compromise."

Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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