Windows 7 PC Outlasts Mac In Security Test

Dennis Faas's picture

A computer running Windows 7 stayed secure for longer than a Mac in the "PWN2OWN" hacking contest this week. But the challenge showed that Internet Explorer 8 -- just released today -- is still vulnerable.

The contest, dubbed PWN2OWN, takes place at the annual CanSecWest security conference. Participants have to find a way to breach security on one of several computers, each running a different browser and operating system which have been fully patched with all currently available security updates.

The winner this year took just 10 seconds to compromise a MacBook. It's bad news for Apple; the prize went to Charlie Miller, the man who won the contest last year by hacking a Mac in two minutes.

Because the contest is run by a respectable organization, the winners are asked not to reveal the details of how they hacked a machine to the public -- only to the relevant software firms.

Easy-To-Use, Easy-To-Hack

Two weeks ago Miller predicted he would win by exploiting a problem with the Safari browser. He says the way it is designed to be easy-to-use makes it more vulnerable to attacks. (Source:

It is known that participants are allowed to demonstrate their attack by asking an official to type in the address of a web page they have set up to infect the machine. That's a stark reminder that human behavior is often the last level of security protection.

Internet Explorer 8 Takes A Hit

Windows 7 did not escape unscathed. It's not yet confirmed how long the Windows 7 machine lasted but, despite running the new and more secure Internet Explorer 8, a security researcher still managed to hack it.

Some writers have pointed out that the test is not necessarily evidence that Windows 7 is more secure than Mac-based systems. Because Windows 7 isn't finished yet, there's been less time for both legitimate researchers and criminal hackers to figure out problems with it. And because so few people are running Windows 7, there's less incentive for hackers to target the system rather than concentrate on XP and Vista. (Source:

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