Hackers who hack with white hats

A white hat hacker

TEXT OF STORY

Jeremy Hobson: In western Canada this week computer researchers and hackers are converging. They're competing in the annual Pwn2Own hacking contest. And they're hoping to walk away with hundreds of thousand dollars in prizes from Hewlett Packard and Google.

It's one of the few ways the people who ferret out all the bugs that infest our software can actually get paid, as Marketplace's Steve Henn reports.


Steve Henn: "Pwn." It's geek-speak for dominating someone on a video game or hacking a computer and taking it over -- owning it.

For years, Charlie Miller has pwnd Pwn2Own. He's won the contest three years in a row. His target? Apple.

Charlie Miller: For a while I was doing it because no one believed Apple products could be hacked.

Not true. Charlie's hacked Apple left, right and center. He once figured out a way to send text messages to an iPhone, break it open, steal your passwords, download your bank balance.

Miller: And there was a guy from Apple there and I saw that as soon as it happened, he was on his cell phone dialing home to Apple and telling them the problem and how to fix it. It was worth it just to see the panicked look on his face.

But when Charlie finds something like that, Apple doesn't pay him a cent. So in the last year, many professional security consultants like Charlie have stopped sharing the flaws they find except in contests like this.

In the hacking wars, these are the good guys and some of the best are on strike.

In Silicon Valley, I'm Steve Henn for Marketplace.

About the author

Steve Henn was Marketplace’s technology and innovation reporter for the entire portfolio of Marketplace programs until December 2011.

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