Google fixes 9 bugs in Chrome, including sandbox-escape flaw

Adds 'instant' search and WebGL support, plugs holes five weeks before Pwn2Own hacking contest

Google on Thursday patched nine bugs in Chrome and upgraded the most stable edition of the browser to version 9.

Chrome 9 also added support for WebGL, an API (application programming interface) that hardware accelerates 3-D graphics without relying on a plug-in; debuted Google Instant, which starts showing search results as soon as a user begins typing; and wrapped up work on the Chrome Web Store, Google's online market for browser applications.

The nine flaws fixed in Chrome 9.0.597.84 range from several crash bugs to what Google called a "race condition in audio handling."

The latter was the only vulnerability rated as "critical," Google's most serious ranking. Two others were pegged as "high" and six were labeled as "low."

According to French security company Vupen, the audio handling race condition bug can be exploited to escape Chrome's sandbox.

If accurate, it would be the second sandbox-escape vulnerability that Google's patched in the last two months. On Jan. 12, Google updated Chrome with fixes for 16 bugs, including one that Adobe yesterday said was also a sandbox-escape flaw.

Adobe mentioned the Chrome sandbox bug when answering Computerworld questions about Reader X, the version of Adobe's popular PDF viewer that also relies on a sandbox to protect users. Reader X's sandbox is partially based on Chrome's technology.

Google did not respond to questions about the two Chrome sandbox vulnerabilities.

Chrome is the only major browser that isolates system processes in a sandbox, technology designed to prevent malware from escaping an application -- like Chrome -- to infect the computer or steal information from the hard drive.

The sandbox bug patching couldn't come at a better time for Chrome, which will face off against researchers next month at the fifth annual Pwn2Own hacking contest in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The first researcher to successfully exploit Chrome and its sandbox will receive a $20,000 cash prize, with all or part of that coming out of Google's pockets.

Pwn2Own's organizer has predicted that Chrome will survive the first day of Pwn2Own, when researchers must exploit a bug in Google's code to escape the sandbox. The browser may fall over the next two days, however, because of rule changes that then let researchers leverage bugs in Windows to get out of the sandbox.

Google paid out $2,000 in bug bounties yesterday to Aki Helin, a research assistant at OUSPG, a security research group at the University of Oulu in Finland, for reporting the two flaws ranked "high." The $2,000 was the smallest amount Google has paid in bounties since October 2010.

Last month, Google wrote checks totaling more than $14,000 to researchers, including a record bounty of $3,133. That bounty was awarded to researcher Sergey Glazunov for reporting the vulnerability Adobe identified as a sandbox-escape bug.

Yesterday's update to Chrome 9 came two months after the release of Chrome 8 in early December. Google has promised to refresh Chrome every six to eight weeks.

Chrome 9 can be downloaded for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux from Google's Web site. Users already running the browser will be updated automatically.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at  @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

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