Last month, Viettel Cyber Security (VCS), a unit of Viettel, one of Vietnam's largest state-owned enterprises, received thrilling news: they emerged as champions in the esteemed cybersecurity competition Pwn2Own Toronto 2023.
At the close of the competition on the evening of October 27, Viettel’s VCS team clinched the championship with an impressive total score of 30 points, earning them the distinguished title of 'Master of Pwn' and outpacing competitors by a significant margin of 12.75 points.
The total score was calculated based on successful participation and assigned Master of Pwn points in the competition's category tables.
Pwn2Own 2023 was hosted by Toronto, Canada from October 24 to 27.
A team of young achievers
The sweet taste of success embraced the 14 young members of the team after three months of relentless dedication, working day and night, and competing fiercely against rivals worldwide.
Perhaps surprising to many, the youngest member, Do Anh Dung, a third-year student from the University of Engineering and Technology under the Vietnam National University-Hanoi, was born in 2003.
Beyond the youthfulness of Dung, the other 13 members of VCS, who achieved significant success at Pwn2Own 2023, are also young.
Despite their tender age, each team member boasts considerable experience in cybersecurity, cultivated over years of dedicated work.
Even the youngest, Dung, made a noteworthy contribution, securing a victory in one of the competition categories, aiding in the team's triumph.
On the evening of October 27, VCS secured the final victory, surpassing formidable opponents such as Sea Security from Singapore, Vupen and Synacktiv from France, and last year's winners Devcore from Taiwan.
Ha Anh Hoang, a VCS team member, told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper that they were informed about the devices they had to compromise only three months before the contest's opening day.
This meant a tight preparation schedule, including purchasing new devices, exploring their hardware and software, and awaiting the arrival of some tools ordered from abroad, which took up to a month.
Nguyen Xuan Hoang, another team member, acknowledged the presence of veteran contestants with experience and capabilities in other rival teams.
However, as a team, VCS was determined to participate with optimal groundwork, committed to competing in a united and strategic manner to achieve the highest results in this year's competition, said Hoang.
Months of diligent groundwork led to victory
Reflecting on last year's contest, VCS secured the second prize with just a narrow margin of 2.5 points below the winners.
As they geared up for Pwn2Own Toronto 2023, the team of young men was resolute in their pursuit of the championship.
Understanding the formidable challenge ahead, the squad acknowledged the difficulty posed by targets set by contest organizers -- software and devices developed by global industry leaders such as Microsoft, Apple, Google, Samsung, and more, as shared by Hoang.
The preparation phase was not without its challenges. Adhering to contest rules, they ordered devices from the U.S., but a momentary lapse resulted in the inadvertent damage of a tool meant for a 110V power source, mistakenly plugged into a 220V outlet.
Ngo Anh Huy, a four-time contest participant, highlighted the concern of overlapping targets with other teams or manufacturers promptly fixing vulnerabilities registered by the VCS team.
Challenges persisted up to the last minute, with delays in visa processing preventing VCS from attending the event in person in Toronto.
Despite these obstacles, the 14-member team had to compete online, wary of potential technical issues during the process.
Against all odds, the team not only clinched the championship but also achieved an impressive victory.
"When we secured the highest mark of 10 points in the last section of the contest, we felt like we were walking on air. Our compelling win left no room for doubt and delighted everyone involved," Hoang reminisced.
Official results, as announced on the Zero Day Initiative site, congratulated Team Viettel on winning Master of Pwn with US$180,000 and 30 points.
The second prize of $116,250 went to Team Orca (Sea Security) with 17.25 points, and the third award was shared by DEVCORE Intern and Interrupt Labs with $50,000 each and 10 points.
Contestants secured over $1 million with 58 zero-day exploits at Pwn2own Toronto
Pwn2Own, an esteemed computer hacking contest organized by Trend Micro's Zero Day Initiative (ZDI), first debuted in April 2007 in Vancouver, Canada. It has since evolved into a biannual event, with the most recent iteration taking place in March.
Contestants in Pwn2Own face the challenge of exploiting widely used software and mobile devices, uncovering previously unknown vulnerabilities. Successful participants not only earn a cash prize but also receive the device they managed to exploit.
The Pwn2Own Toronto 2023 concluded with security researchers amassing a total of $1,038,500 for 58 unique zero-day exploits, including multiple instances of bug collisions.
As reported on the Zero Day Initiative website, the revealed bugs will be shared with the respective vendors, who now have a 90-day window to develop and release patches.