Hackers Score Nearly $1M at Device-Focused Pwn2Own Contest

Security researchers and hackers demonstrated 63 zero-day vulnerabilities in popular devices at the latest Pwn2Own, exploiting printers from Canon, HP, and Lexmark, and routers and network-attached storage devices from Synology and Netgear.

According to Trend Micro’s Zero Day Initiative (ZDI), which organized the competition last week, the collection of vulnerabilities earned $989,750 for the offensive cybersecurity specialists competing in the contest. While some attacks chained together a series of exploits to take control of the remote devices, including one that used five vulnerabilities, others found a single security weakness to target, such as the Pentest Limited team, which found a reliable single-click exploit in the Samsung Galaxy S22 mobile phone that required less than a minute to attack.

The Samsung exploit highlighted that significant vulnerabilities are out there to be found, says Dustin Child, head of threat awareness at Trend Micro’s Zero Day Initiative.

“Just click a link on an affected device and you get owned,” he says. “It’s a very reliable bug, too. Very impressive research and quite the effective demonstration of why clicking unknown links can be dangerous.”

Focusing on IoT and Mobile

Pwn2Own started in 2007 as an annual contest connected with the annual CanSecWest conference, but has since branched out into two contests: one focused on computer operating systems and applications, and the other β€” which includes the latest contest β€” focused on devices and the Internet of Things.

Over the four days of the contest, offensive cybersecurity specialists discovered a significant number of vulnerabilities in printers and routers from major brands, but also targeted Bluetooth speakers and network-attached storage, ZDI stated in a summary of the contest results.

Because many of the devices are commonly used by small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), companies should take the results of the competition as a warning, Child says.

“If anything, SMBs should understand that, while they may feel they aren’t large enough to be a target, their devices can and will be targeted by threat actors,” he says. “At [this] time, the attackers are just looking to add nodes to their botnet, but regardless of intent, the devices we rely on for business can be compromised if left undefended.”

Buffer Overflows Continue to Creep In

Unfortunately, one of the classes of vulnerabilities that continues to represent a fertile field of exploitation for attackers is memory safety vulnerabilities, such as buffer overflows. While major software companies have started using memory-safe programming languages ​​to prevent memory-related issues, many device-makers are still behind the curve.

Many of the vulnerabilities discovered during the contest were buffer overflows, Child says.

“This form of memory corruption has been known for some time, so we were a bit surprised to see it still prevalent in multiple devices,” he says.

Among the most targeted devices were printers, with Lexmark, HP, and Canon printers among those favored by participants. While routers also made up a significant share of targeted devices, they would have seen more abuse this year, except that last-minute patches from Netgear and TP-Link eliminated targeted weaknesses, forcing competitors to withdraw from the competition, Child says.

Playing the Mario Theme on a Lexmark

Some of the printer exploits showed additional creativity. In the past, hackers would settle for exploiting a system and forcing it to run Microsoft Paint or call up a calculator application as a demonstration of their potential to run arbitrary code. In the latest Pwn2Own, however, successful hackers displayed Pokemon or another anime character on the small printer control display.

Perhaps most impressively, the Horizon3 AI team used the system alert sound on a Lexmark printer to play the theme from Mario, even though the device does not have that functionality.

“Since the printer doesn’t have a speaker, we didn’t expect it to play a song, but they modulated the frequency of the beep to add the musical function,” Child says.

Data management providers Synology and online giant Google both co-sponsored the contest.