Alisa Esage

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Alisa Esage
Алиса Шевченко

19.05[1] 1984 (age 38–39)[2]
Other namesAlisa Shevchenko
OccupationCybersecurity researcher
OrganizationZero Day Engineering

Alisa Shevchenko (Russian: Алиса Андреевна Шевченко), professionally known as Alisa Esage, is a Russian-born computer security researcher, entrepreneur and hacker with Ukrainian roots.[3] She is known for working independently with dominant software corporations such as Google and Microsoft to find and exploit security weaknesses in their products; being the first female participant in Pwn2Own, the world's premiere professional hacking competition with significant cash prizes; and being accused by the government of the United States of hacking the presidential elections in 2016.

Alisa Esage is the owner of Zero Day Engineering, an expert firm offering specialized training and consulting in software vulnerability research.


A self-described "offensive security researcher," a 2014 profile in Forbes says of Esage: "she was more drawn to hacking than programming."[4][5] After dropping out of university she worked as a malware analysis expert for Kaspersky Labs for five years. In 2009, she founded the company Esage Labs, later known as ZOR Security (the Russian acronym stands for Цифровое Оружие и Защита, "Digital Weapons and Defense.")

Esage's company ZOR Security was placed on a list of US sanctioned entities after being accused of "helping Vladimir Putin bid to swing the [2016] election for Trump". Regarding White House accusations, Esage stated that authorities either misinterpreted facts or were deceived.[6] To this day, U.S. officials have not said why they believe Esage worked with the GRU's hackers, or what she allegedly gave them.[7]

In early 2021, Esage announced[8] the Zero Day Engineering project, specialized on professional training, research intelligence, and consulting in the area of advanced computer security and vulnerability research.

Esage has won several international advanced hacking competitions, spoke at multiple international security conferences, and published technical articles in top-tier technical magazines.


In 2014 Esage took the first place in the PHDays IV "Critical Infrastructure Attack" contest (alternative name: "Hack the Smart City"), successfully hacking a mock-up smart city and detecting several zero-day vulnerabilities in Indusoft Web Studio 7.1 by Schneider Electric.[9][10]

In 2014-2018 Esage was credited for discovering of multiple zero-day security vulnerabilities in popular software products from tech giants such as Microsoft,[11] Firefox,[12] and Google.[13] Part of those vulnerabilities were responsively disclosed via the Zero Day Initiative (ZDI) security bounty program,[14] previously owned by U.S. tech giant HP, and credited under various pseudonyms.[15]

Esage has presented her research at multiple international security conferences: RECON, Positive Hack Days,[16] Zero Nights,[17] POC x Zer0con,[18] Chaos Communications Congress.[19]

Her work has been featured in various professional security industry publications such as Virus Bulletin, Secure List, and Phrack Magazine.[citation needed]


On 8 April 2021 Esage was the first woman to win in the Pwn2Own, the advanced hacking competition running since 2007.[20] As part of her competition entry at Pwn2Own Vancouver 2021 Esage targeted Parallels Desktop for Mac version 16.1.3 with a zero day exploit developed by herself, and was able to demonstrate a guest-to-host virtual machine escape with arbitrary code execution on MacOS, on a fully patched system.[21] The entry was declared a partial win by the contest due to the fact that the targeted software vendor knew internally about the zero day bug that was leveraged in Esage's exploit.


The "partial win" naming of Esage's Pwn2Own Vancouver 2021 exploit by the organizers raised controversy in the global information security community, with commenters on Twitter demanding that the rules of the competition be changed so that the attempt could be declared a complete win.[22][citation needed] According to Pwn2Own rules of 2021,[23] a successful contest entry may be disqualified or downgraded in the competition charts if the targeted software vendor was internally aware of the respective vulnerability (while still unpatched) on the day of the contest. Esage's participation attracted attention to that point of the rules, with numerous arguments tweeted by prominent figures of the computer security community to support a change of rules.[24]

Esage's status as the first woman in Pwn2Own history was also questioned, although to a lesser extent. While the competition livestream recording[25] is clear on that point, with the narrator saying at 05:08 "Alisa is our first ever female participant", and the Pwn2Own founder chiming in on Twitter,[26] the official contest tweet came with a side note: "the first female participating as an individual". This is likely because a team participant in Pwn2Own 2018 of the Ret2 Systems team[27] changed their name and gender identity in the later years.[citation needed] Fact-wise, public record of Pwn2Own competitions in the official blog posts[28] and livestream recordings[29] holds no mentions of female participation prior to Esage's 2021 entry.

Motivation and personality[edit]

Esage quotes her father as being the main inspiration to her choice of occupation and career: "He taught me to solder when I was 5 years old, I think. So I started reading books about computers and programming in early school and taught myself to code in C++ and x86 assembly language as soon as I got a PC at age 15."[30]

On her participation in the Pwn2Own competition: "It’s an essential milestone in a professional hacker’s career, and a major goal personally. I am super hyped! And relieved"[31]

Publications and exploits[edit]


  1. ^ Shevchenko, Alisa [@alisaesage] (19 May 2018). "С днём рождения, Алиса! Мы тебя любим. Самые лучшие пожелания ⭐️ Happy Birthday, Alisa! Best wishes, Love, may God bless. 🎂" (Tweet). Archived from the original on 19 May 2021. Retrieved 14 June 2021 – via Twitter.
  2. ^ "Alisa Esage Шевченко". Archived from the original on 31 July 2013.
  3. ^ Twitter Retrieved 1 August 2022. {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  4. ^ Fox-Brewster, Thomas (30 December 2016). "Meet The Russian Hacker Claiming She's A Scapegoat In The U.S. Election Spy Storm". Forbes.
  5. ^ Седаков, Павел (11 December 2014). "Контракт со взломом: как хакер построила бизнес за счет банков и корпораций". Forbes Russia (in Russian).
  6. ^ "Young Russian denies she aided election hackers: 'I never work with douchebags'". The Guardian. 6 January 2017. Retrieved 6 January 2017.
  7. ^ Poulsen, Kevin (4 August 2018). "This Hacker Party Is Ground Zero for Russia's Cyberspies". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 5 March 2021.
  8. ^ Shevchenko, Alisa [@alisaesage] (3 February 2021). "So, this is my new personal business website: Zero Day Engineering – the project that will round up and carry on some two decades of my life and work. Still a bit rough, but it's time. More to come. /cc @zerodaytraining" (Tweet). Archived from the original on 3 February 2021. Retrieved 14 June 2021 – via Twitter.
  9. ^ "Positive Hack Days: Smart City Hacked". Positive Hack Days. Archived from the original on 23 December 2014. Retrieved 24 January 2017.
  10. ^ "Schneider Electric InduSoft Web Studio and InTouch Machine Edition 2014 Vulnerabilities (Update A) | CISA". Retrieved 5 March 2021.
  11. ^ "Microsoft XML Core Services CVE-2014-4118 Remote Code Execution Vulnerability". Retrieved 5 March 2021.
  12. ^ "1443891 - (CVE-2018-5178) Integer overflow in nsScriptableUnicodeConverter::ConvertFromByteArray can cause a heap buffer overflow". Retrieved 5 March 2021.
  13. ^ "825503 - chromium - An open-source project to help move the web forward. - Monorail". Retrieved 5 March 2021.
  14. ^ "ZDI-15-052". Retrieved 5 March 2021.
  15. ^ "Zero Day Initiative — VirtualBox 3D Acceleration: An accelerated attack surface". Zero Day Initiative. Retrieved 5 March 2021.
  16. ^ "Positive Hack Days 2014, Alisa Esage: "My Journey Into 0-Day Binary Vulnerability Discovery in 2014"". Archived from the original on 15 March 2016.
  17. ^ "Speakers. ZeroNights Conference". Retrieved 5 March 2021.
  18. ^ "Power of Community". (in Korean). Retrieved 5 March 2021.
  19. ^ Esage, Alisa (29 December 2020), Advanced Hexagon Diag, retrieved 5 March 2021
  20. ^ "Windows, Ubuntu, Zoom, Safari, MS Exchange Hacked at Pwn2Own 2021". The Hacker News. Retrieved 17 April 2021.
  21. ^ Shevchenko, Alisa [@alisaesage] (8 April 2021). "Explaining to non-specialists: it's a zero day Hypervisor VM Escape exploit on Mac, one of the first in the world, I think. Developed by me. Should also affect Parallels on Apple Silicone" (Tweet). Archived from the original on 8 April 2021. Retrieved 14 June 2021 – via Twitter.
  22. ^ Shevchenko, Alisa [@alisaesage] (9 April 2021). "I am crying. It means nothing for me how exactly the ZDI names my successful exploit demonstration – I am not in this for cash or testing my luck in a lottery – but apparently it does for you Pwn2Own is an important community event. Let the people decide what is fair or not" (Tweet). Archived from the original on 11 June 2021. Retrieved 14 June 2021 – via Twitter.
  23. ^ Retrieved 17 April 2021. {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  24. ^ Varghese, Sam. "iTWire - Anger as woman researcher walks away empty-handed from hacking contest". Retrieved 17 April 2021.
  25. ^ Pwn2Own 2021 - Day Three Live Stream, retrieved 17 April 2021
  26. ^ dragosr [@dragosr] (8 April 2021). "A big congratulations to @alisaesage for making the PWN2OWN winners no longer be an all boys club. Nicely done" (Tweet). Archived from the original on 8 April 2021. Retrieved 14 June 2021 – via Twitter.
  27. ^ WELCOME TO PWN2OWN 2018: THE SCHEDULE, retrieved 27 July 2022
  28. ^ "pwn2own - Google Search". Retrieved 17 April 2021.
  29. ^ "Zero Day Initiative - YouTube". Retrieved 17 April 2021.
  30. ^ "A Conversation With Alisa Esage, a Russian Hacker Who Had Her Company Sanctioned After the 2016 Election". The Record by Recorded Future. 1 March 2021. Retrieved 5 March 2021.
  31. ^ Shevchenko, Alisa [@alisaesage] (8 April 2021). "Official: I won Pwn2Own competition in the Virtualisation category. It's an essential milestone in a professional hacker's career, and a major goal personally. I am super hyped! And relieved Details of the exploit that I developed are now under embargo of responsible disclosure" (Tweet). Archived from the original on 17 April 2021. Retrieved 14 June 2021 – via Twitter.

External links[edit]