Charlie Miller and his team at Independent Security Evaluators managed to hack a MacBook Air in just two minutes yesterday at the CanSec West security conference. He won $10,000 for the feat in the PWN2OWN contest in Vancouver.
I’ve had a chance to interview Miller on a couple of occasions. He won fame as the first hacker to discover flaws in the iPhone. And he also figured out a way to hack into Second Life and steal the money of avatars by exploiting a (now patched) flaw in Apple’s QuickTime player. He says he has nothing against Apple or the Mac. It’s just unexplored territory.
Miller is one of those people driven by a curious nature to figure out what’s wrong with things. But from the discussions I’ve had with him, it seems Miller has experience walking the fine line between legal and illegal hacking. He can get as deep into the technology discussion of “buffer overflows” and “fuzzing” as anyone.
His company is a security consulting service that helps companies test their own security. He works under the euphemistic title of “security researcher.” But he doesn’t consider himself a “black hat” because he always discloses flaws to companies ahead of time. Granted, he doesn’t always give them a lot of time to fix flaws before he discloses them, but he figures that if he finds the flaws, then users are already vulnerable.
Clearly, Miller is somebody Apple’s security experts want to know and be on good terms with. He’s doing an awful lot of the work that they should be doing themselves. The contest organizer, DVLab, is keeping Miller’s detailed description of the flaw in the Safari browser for the MacBook Air confidential, at least until Apple can start fixing it. Companies and government agencies keep a close eye on conferences like CanSecWest and Black Hat (in Las Vegas in August) because of all the flaws that get exposed at the events.