Dubbed by its organizers as "an annual awards ceremony celebrating the achievements and failures of security researchers and the security community," Pwnies are meant to bring fame and shame to individuals, businesses, malware (and the people who discovered it), and more that have been featured in the year's security headlines--for good or bad.
For 2011, nine Pwnies will be awarded--covering the period from July 1, 2010, to June 30, 2011--in such categories as best server-side bug, most innovative research, lamest vendor response, lifetime achievement, and best song. The list of nominations reads like a 12-months-in-review of notable security discoveries, failures, and trends.
In terms of individual categories, expect a fierce battle for the award of "Epic 0wnage," which according to contest organizers "goes to the hackers responsible for delivering the most damaging, widely publicized, or hilarious 0wnage." This year there are four nominees: Anonymous, for hacking HBGary Federal; LulzSec, "for hacking everyone"; Bradley Manning, for allegedly leaking enormous quantities of documents to WikiLeaks via fake Lady Gaga CDs; and Stuxnet, which has the distinction of being the first known malware to scuttle centrifuges.
Best client-side bugs include, amongst others, Vupen's Google Chrome sandbox bypass, Comex's exploit of a FreeType vulnerability in iOS, enabling device owners to jailbreak their devices, and Jon Oberheide's discovery that via an Android Market XSS vulnerability, he could forcibly install applications on Android users' phones, if he first tricked them into clicking on a link.
Meanwhile, the "lamest vendor response" nominees include Novell, for mischaracterizing a remotely exploitable stack overflow in OpenSSH on Novell NetWare as a denial of service attack. It's joined by RSA, for its assurances after the theft of SecurID information that it had the problem under control, after which hackers used the stolen information to attack Lockheed-Martin.
Interestingly, Sony has a lock on the "Epic Fail" award, as it's the only nominee. That said, Sony earned five nominations, ranging from its PlayStation 3 jailbreaking lawsuit, to its failing to properly protect its PlayStation Network site security, to its laying off multiple security professionals, not long before it was hacked.
The awards will be judged by a panel of eight security researchers, dubbed by the Pwnies organizers as "the closest to a jury of peers a hacker is likely to ever get." For 2011, judges include HD Moore, chief security officer at Rapid7 and chief architect of Metasploit, the leading open-source penetration testing toolkit, as well as bug hunters Mark Dowd and Dino Dai Zovi.
Black Hat USA 2011 presents a unique opportunity for members of the security industry to gather and discuss the latest in cutting-edge research. It happens July 30-Aug. 4 in Las Vegas. Find out more and register.