Google lays $2.7M on the line for Pwnium hacking contest

After last year's semi-washout, will again try to draw out exploits of Chrome OS at March security conference

Google yesterday said it would again host its Pwnium hacking contest at a Canadian security conference in March, putting $2.7 million at stake to draw out researchers who can hack its browser-based operating system, Chrome OS.

Dubbed Pwnium 4, the challenge will again pit researchers against Chrome OS, but this year will let them choose between Intel- or ARM-powered laptops. In 2013, hackers had to try to crack a Chromebook with an Intel processor.

Prizes of $110,000 and $150,000 will again be rewarded to individuals or teams who can hack the operating system, with the top dollar handed to those who deliver an exploit able to persistently compromise an HP or Acer Chromebook -- in other words, hijack the device so that it remains under their control even after a reboot.

Google capped the total up for grabs at $2.71828 million, giving multiple researchers a chance at prize money. The "2.71828" comes from a mathematical constant that is the base of the natural logarithm.

Last year Google put $3.14159 million in the pot -- another nod to mathematics, as those are the first six digits of the value of Pi -- but paid out just $40,000 to a prolific hacker who goes by "Pinkie Pie," the contest's sole participant, for what Google later called a partial exploit.

Google also said it would consider larger bonuses this year to researchers who demonstrated what it called a "particularly impressive or surprising exploit," such as one that could circumvent kASLR, (kernel Address Space Layout Randomization), a relatively new variant of the better-known ASLR anti-exploit technology used by Apple's iOS and OS X, Microsoft's Windows 8 and Chrome OS.

Even with bonuses in play, it's unlikely that Google will end up spending anywhere close to $2.7 million this year.

To qualify for the prizes or bonuses, winners must provide functional exploit code and details on all the vulnerabilities put into play, as was the case last year.

Pwnium 4 will take place March 12 at CanSecWest, the Vancouver, British Columbia, security conference known for another hacking contest, Pwn2Own, which last year was co-sponsored by HP's Zero Day Initiative (ZDI) bug bounty program and Google. HP has not yet announced the details of its 2014 challenge.

The official rules for Pwnium 4 can be found on Google's Chromium Security page.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is

See more by Gregg Keizer on

Read more about malware and vulnerabilities in Computerworld's Malware and Vulnerabilities Topic Center.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags HPGooglesecurityMalware and Vulnerabilitiesintelacer

More about AcerAppleGoogleHPIntelMicrosoftTopic

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Gregg Keizer

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Will your data protection strategy be enough when disaster strikes?

    Speakers: - Paul O’Connor, Engagement leader - Performance Audit Group, Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) - Nigel Phair, Managing Director, Centre for Internet Safety - Joshua Stenhouse, Technical Evangelist, Zerto - Anthony Caruana, CSO MC & Moderator

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place