Project Zero

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Project Zero
LaunchedJuly 15, 2014 (4 years, 282 days ago)
Current statusOnline

Project Zero is the name of a team of security analysts employed by Google tasked with finding zero-day vulnerabilities, the secret hackable bugs that are exploited by criminals, state-sponsored hackers, and intelligence agencies.[1] It was announced on 15 July 2014.[2]


After finding a number of flaws in software used by many end-users while researching other problems, such as the critical "Heartbleed" vulnerability, Google decided to form a full-time team dedicated to finding such vulnerabilities, not only in Google software but any software used by its users. The new project was announced on 15 July 2014 on Google's security blog.[2] When it launched, one of the principal innovations that Project Zero provided was a strict 90-day disclosure deadline along with a publicly-visible bugtracker where the vulnerability disclosure process is documented.[3]

While the idea for Project Zero can be traced back to 2010, its establishment fits into the larger trend of Google's counter-surveillance initiatives in the wake of the 2013 global surveillance disclosures by Edward Snowden. The team was formerly headed by Chris Evans, previously head of Google's Chrome security team, who subsequently joined Tesla Motors.[4] Other notable members include security researchers, such as Ben Hawkes, Ian Beer and Tavis Ormandy.[5] Hawkes eventually became the team's manager.

The team's focus is not just on finding bugs and novel attacks, but also on researching and publicly documenting how such flaws could be exploited in practice. This is done to ensure that defenders have sufficient understanding of attacks; the team keeps an extensive research blog with articles that describe individual attacks in detail.[6]

Bug finding and reporting[edit]

Bugs found by the Project Zero team are reported to the manufacturer and only made publicly visible once a patch has been released[2] or if 90 days have passed without a patch being released.[7] The 90-day-deadline is Google's way of implementing responsible disclosure, giving software companies 90 days to fix a problem before informing the public so that users themselves can take necessary steps to avoid attacks.[7] There are cases when the team discloses flaws even before updates and fixes could be released, leaving users of the compromised system vulnerable.[8]

Notable members[edit]

Past members[edit]

Notable discoveries[edit]

One of the first Project Zero reports that attracted attention involved a flaw that allowed hackers to take control of software running the Safari browser.[15] For its efforts, the team, specifically, Beer, was cited in Apple's brief note of thanks.

On 30 September 2014 Google detected a security flaw within Windows 8.1's system call "NtApphelpCacheControl", which allows a normal user to gain administrative access.[16] Microsoft was notified of the problem immediately but did not fix the problem within 90 days, which meant information about the bug was made publicly available on 29 December 2014.[7] Releasing the bug to the public elicited a response from Microsoft that they are working on the problem.[7]

On the 9th of March 2015, Google Project Zero's blog posted a guest post that disclosed how a previously-known hardware flaw in commonly-deployed DRAM called Row Hammer could be exploited to escalate privileges for local users.[17] This post spawned a large quantity of follow-up research both in the academic and hardware community.

On 19 February 2017 Google discovered a flaw within Cloudflare's reverse proxies,[18] which caused their edge servers to run past the end of a buffer and return memory that contained private information such as HTTP cookies, authentication tokens, HTTP POST bodies, and other sensitive data. Some of this data was cached by search engines.[19] A member of the Project Zero team referred to this flaw as Cloudbleed.[18]

On 27 March 2017 Tavis Ormandy of Project Zero discovered a vulnerability in the popular password manager LastPass.[20] On 31 March 2017, LastPass announced they had fixed the problem.[21]

Project Zero was involved in discovering the Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities affecting many modern CPUs, which were discovered in mid-2017 and disclosed in early January 2018.[22] The issue was discovered by Jann Horn independently from the other researchers who reported the security flaw and was scheduled to be published on 9 January 2018 before moving the date up because of growing speculation.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Greenberg, Andy (2014-07-15). "Meet 'Project Zero,' Google's Secret Team of Bug-Hunting Hackers". Wired. ISSN 1059-1028. Retrieved 2019-03-06.
  2. ^ a b c Evans, Chris (15 July 2014). "Announcing Project Zero". Google Online Security Blog. Retrieved 4 January 2015.
  3. ^ "Project Zero Bug Tracker". Retrieved 2019-04-11.
  4. ^ "Chris Evans on Twitter". Retrieved 2015-09-22.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Greenberg, Andy (15 July 2014). "Meet 'Project Zero,' Google's Secret Team of Bug-Hunting Hackers". Retrieved 4 January 2015.
  6. ^ [ "Project Zero Research Blog"] Check |url= value (help). Retrieved 2019-04-11.
  7. ^ a b c d Dent, Steven (2 January 2015). "Google posts Windows 8.1 vulnerability before Microsoft can patch it". Engadget. Retrieved 4 January 2015.
  8. ^ Fingas, John (March 4, 2019). "Google discloses 'high severity' Mac security flaw ahead of patch". Engadget. Retrieved 2019-03-06.
  9. ^ a b Davies, Chris (2018-01-03). "Google reveals CPU security flaw Meltdown and Spectre details". SlashGear. Retrieved 2018-01-04.
  10. ^ "Project Zero Blog: Adventures in Videoconferencing". Retrieved 2019-04-11.
  11. ^ "Over The Air: Exploiting Broadcom's Wi-Fi Stack (Part 1)". Retrieved 12 April 2019.
  12. ^ "Lawfareblog Hard National Security Choices Matt Tait". Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  13. ^ "aPAColypse now: Exploiting Windows 10 in a Local Network with WPAD/PAC and JScript". Retrieved 18 December 2017.
  14. ^ TIME, The Editors of (2018-01-19). TIME Cybersecurity: Hacking, the Dark Web and You. Time Inc. Books. ISBN 9781547842414.
  15. ^ "Issue 118: Windows: Elevation of Privilege in ahcache.sys/NtApphelpCacheControl". google-security-research group on 30 September 2014. Retrieved 4 January 2015.
  16. ^ "Exploiting the DRAM rowhammer bug to gain kernel privileges". Retrieved 11 April 2019.
  17. ^ a b "Issue 1139: cloudflare: Cloudflare Reverse Proxies are Dumping Uninitialized Memory". google-security-research group on 19 February 2017. Retrieved 24 February 2017.
  18. ^ "Incident report on memory leak caused by Cloudflare parser bug". Cloudflare. 23 February 2017. Retrieved 24 February 2017.
  19. ^ "Another hole opens up in LastPass that could take weeks to fix". Naked Security. 2017-03-29. Retrieved 2017-03-29.
  20. ^ Siegrist, Joe (31 March 2017). "Security Update for the LastPass Extension". LastPass Blog. Retrieved 2 May 2017.
  21. ^ Greenberg, Andy (2018-01-03). "A Critical Intel Flaw Breaks Basic Security for Most Computers". WIRED. Retrieved 2018-01-04.

External links[edit]

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