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Macintosh users have the distinction of being the only group of computer
users who honestly believe their computers are secure from malware and attacks.

And then every once in a while, someone comes along and blows that belief
right out of the water.

At the CanSecWest conference in Vancouver, British
Columbia, March 18, security researcher Charlie
Miller exploited a vulnerability in Safari, the default Web browser in Macs,
that enabled him to take control of the computer via a malicious link—he just
needed a vulnerable user on the other side to click on the link, and bam! He
was in.

Miller showed his chops at the conference’s PWN2OWN
competition, which he also won last year by exploiting a vulnerability he had
already discovered but hadn’t yet alerted Apple about (in truth, all
contestants start the competition with knowledge of a vulnerability that they
previously discovered—it saves time). As the winner, he takes home $5,000 and
the machine he successful hacked.

This year’s PWN2OWN competition pitted
two machines—a Sony Vaio PC running a prerelease Windows 7 beta with Internet
Explorer 8, Firefox and Google’s new Chrome browsers; and a MacBook running
Safari and Firefox.

The contest, which was sponsored by TippingPoint, actually helps the vendors
by alerting them of vulnerabilities. Winners are asked to sign a
confidentiality agreement regarding the vulnerabilities, and TippingPoint then
turns over the information to the vendors for patching.

A second security researcher, “Nils,” successfully hacked Internet Explorer
8, performing a download attack to take full control of the Sony Vaio PC. Nils
also had successfully hacked Safari shortly after Miller through a separate
vulnerability. For both hacks—and one on Firefox through a zero-day flaw—he
walked away with $15,000 total.

The competition continues March 19, with contestants trying to exploit
vulnerabilities in other technologies such as Flash, Java, .NET
and QuickTime.