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Microsoft ponies up $100K to researcher who figured out new Windows hack in 2 weeks


Courtesy Gregg Keizer, Computerworld

The security researcher who yesterday was awarded $100,000 by Microsoft spent about two weeks pondering, then demonstrating a new way to circumvent Windows’ defensive technologies.

In an interview today, James Forshaw, the head of vulnerability research at U.K.-based Context Information Security, described in the most general terms the work that resulted in the big bounty.

"When Microsoft announced the initial bounties, I first thought about the mitigations I wanted to go over." said Forshaw. "Windows has a lot of mitigating in place, so I started to brainstorm. I asked myself, ‘How would I do it [if I was a cyber criminal]?’"

From start to finish — from those brainstorming sessions to an exploit that proved his mitigation bypass approach worked — Forshaw said he spent about half a month on the project. "From my initial thought to a full working proof of concept was about two weeks," he said.

Forshaw stressed that the two weeks of solid work were atop the years he’s spent in information security, hammering home the point that winning submissions, whether for a bonus program like Microsoft’s or those that browser makers and other vendors run to collect details on specific vulnerabilities, almost always goes to very experienced, long-time researchers.

"This is not something that anyone’s done before, but then again, nothing is completely revolutionary," said Forshaw.

Microsoft echoed that yesterday. In a Tuesday blog post, Katie Moussouris, a senior security strategist with the Microsoft Security Response Center (MSRC), and the manager of the bounty programs, said that a Microsoft engineer had independently found a variant of the attack technique class that Forshaw reported.

"But James’ submission was of such high quality and outlined some other variants such that we wanted to award him the full $100,000 bounty," wrote Moussouris.

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