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Bugs for Bucks: Making Money and Making the Web Safer with Bug Bounties

| November 17, 2023

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Bug bounties have revolutionized cybersecurity by providing a mutually beneficial platform for organizations and ethical hackers. Here, we will explore the dynamic world of bug bounties, where individuals have the opportunity to earn substantial rewards while helping organizations identify and rectify software vulnerabilities. We will dive into the benefits of bug bounty programs, their increasing popularity and demand of the bug bounty program across various sectors, and the challenges involved.

Bug bounties have revolutionized cybersecurity by providing a mutually beneficial platform for organizations and ethical hackers. Here, we will explore the dynamic world of bug bounties, where individuals have the opportunity to earn substantial rewards while helping organizations identify and rectify software vulnerabilities. We will dive into the benefits of bug bounty programs, their increasing popularity and demand of the bug bounty program across various sectors, and the challenges involved.

Key Takeaways:

Bug bounty programs provide financial rewards to cyber-security experts and testers for successfully auditing, discovering, and reporting a bug.

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What is a Bug Bounty Program?

A vulnerability rewards program (VRP), commonly referred to as a bug bounty program, is designed to incentivize cyber-security experts who discover and report software bugs. Many organizations frequently employ these programs as part of their vulnerability management strategy. The demand of the bug bounty program is on an upward trajectory because it serves as a valuable supplement to internal code audits and penetration tests. By engaging in crowdsourcing initiatives, organizations encourage the broader community to contribute to identifying and resolving vulnerabilities, thus enhancing their overall security posture.

Who employs bug bounty programs?

Bug bounties have become an integral component of the security programs implemented by numerous prominent organizations. Notable companies like Android, Apple, Digital Ocean, and Goldman Sachs have embraced bug bounty initiatives. You can also explore other programs some leading bug bounties providers offer, such as Bugcrowd and HackerOne.

Why do companies employ bug bounty programs?

Demand for the bug bounty program is exploding because it empowers companies to leverage a diverse community of skilled hackers to identify hidden vulnerabilities within their code base. This strategic approach grants them access to a larger pool of hackers and testers than traditional one-on-one engagements. Consequently, the likelihood of discovering and promptly addressing bugs before malicious actors can exploit them is significantly increased. Moreover, implementing a bug bounty program can yield positive outcomes for a company’s public image. As bug bounties have become increasingly prevalent, having such a program signifies to the public and regulatory bodies that an organization maintains a mature and robust security program. This growing trend indicates that bug bounty programs are gradually being recognized as an industry standard, with more and more organizations considering them a worthwhile investment for ensuring the security and integrity of their systems and software. As a result, this will exponentially boost the demand for the bug bounty program across industries.

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Benefits of bug bounties

Bug bounty programs have gained significant popularity across both public and private sectors due to the benefits they offer to organizations undergoing testing.

Identifying and fixing blind spots:

Regardless of the meticulous documentation of software requirements, specifications, and engineering, as well as the quality of design and coding, defects are bound to emerge within a product. These bugs can range from minor nuisances to significant concerns, managing to infiltrate despite best efforts. One contributing factor to the introduction of bugs is institutional blindness. While internal testers provide a fresh perspective compared to developers, they, too, can be influenced by established patterns of behaviour and preconceived notions about the product. As a result, they may focus their testing efforts on specific paths or areas, particularly if automation is underutilized or time allocated for testing is limited. On the other hand, bounty testers are not subject to the same institutional preferences. While they may possess their tendencies, they are motivated by the objective of uncovering defects. Their assessments are not hindered by concerns about disrupting the status quo or avoiding uncomfortable findings. This impartiality and drive to identify vulnerabilities make bug bounty testers well-suited to detect bugs internal teams may have overlooked. It ultimately enhances the overall quality and resilience of the product.

Continuous software evaluation and testing:

A bug bounty program can be implemented to support a product if it is in a testable state. Whether the product is actively used by customers, ready to undergo testing as a minimum viable product, or even in the prototype stage, a bug bounty program can effectively uncover critical vulnerabilities throughout its lifecycle. Bug bounties offer an evergreen and adaptable approach. Unlike internal testing teams, a constant pool of diverse and qualified testers is available to identify defects within a product. This reliability makes bug bounties a dependable strategy that consistently yields valuable results. As a result, organizations can incorporate bug bounties into their product planning and documentation, recognizing their significant contribution to enhancing overall product security. Another reason that led to the rise in demand for the bug bounty program is flexibility. It allows organizations to run them continuously, aligning with the approach adopted by many companies. This continuous engagement ensures ongoing testing and prompt identification of vulnerabilities, thereby reinforcing the effectiveness of bug bounty programs in maintaining the security and stability of a product.

Simulating real-world threat scenarios.

One of the primary hurdles encountered in penetration testing and vulnerability assessments is achieving high realism in the exercises. Organizations must identify and address vulnerabilities most susceptible to exploitation by potential attackers. Nonetheless, several factors can diminish the authenticity of these assessments. Bug bounty programs tackle this challenge by compensating bug hunters to replicate the behaviours of actual cyber criminals. These individuals possess comparable knowledge about the target organization and have access to its systems. Consequently, the vulnerability assessments conducted by bug bounty hunters are inherently more realistic compared to traditionally structured engagements. By simulating real-world attack scenarios, bug bounty programs offer organizations a valuable opportunity to gauge their true security posture and effectively prioritize vulnerability remediation efforts.

Downsides of Bug Bounties

In conjunction with above-mentioned upsides, bug bounty programs also have a few downsides that every individual and company must consider prior to opting for one. Irrelevant and unhelpful alerts/ bug submissions: Bug bounty programs often draw a substantial volume of submissions, including reports of varying quality standards. As a result, orgaizations must be prepared to manage the high influx of both helpful and unhelpful alerts, along with the likelihood of receiving numerous reports that may be irrelevant compared to the valuable ones.

Shorter Time frame problem

For companies seeking urgent bug detection in their applications or websites within a specific time frame, relying solely on a bug bounty program may not be the most prudent choice. The reason is that bug bounties do not guarantee the timing or certainty of receiving bug reports.

Varying Tester’s methodology of testing.

In bug bounty programs, engaging skilled and qualified professionals is possible, particularly if you are willing to invest in top-tier talent. However, as internal teams may be limited by their blind spots and perspectives, bug bounty hunters can also face similar limitations. While an ideal scenario involves a diverse group of testers who can cover a wide range of potential defects and vulnerabilities, there is no guarantee that they will approach product testing the same way as actual customers. This includes considering various devices, preferred usage scenarios, and high-value locations. Moreover, the process of testing to uncover defects and exploratory testing of a product can differ significantly. Bug bounty hunters primarily focus on identifying high-value issues, while internal testers may concentrate on specific products or features and explore them to observe the outcomes. These perspectives can vary, and both may diverge from the customer’s viewpoint, whose main objective is to use the product according to their specific needs. Therefore, it is crucial to acknowledge the variations in perspectives and testing approaches between bug bounty hunters, internal testers, and end customers. Organizations should strive for a balanced and comprehensive testing approach that incorporates multiple viewpoints to ensure a more thorough evaluation of the product and a better alignment with customers’ diverse needs and experiences.

Low-value bug issue.

When presented with the choice between earning $100 or $500, it is natural for individuals, including bounty hunters, to opt for the higher amount. Similarly, high-severity defects in bug bounty programs often result in larger payouts, which may seem beneficial. However, if a significant portion of bounty hunters solely focus on critical vulnerabilities, they might overlook smaller-value defects that can collectively impact the overall user experience. To address this challenge, organizations can adopt creative payout structures. For instance, they could bonus the bounty hunter who discovers the highest quantity of approved defects. Nevertheless, it’s important to recognize that specifying dollar values and bonuses for issues will inevitably influence the mindset of bounty hunters, even if it occurs unconsciously. Therefore, organizations should carefully consider the potential effects of their payout structures on the motivations and behaviors of bounty hunters participating in their programs.

Conclusion

In conclusion, bug bounties have emerged as a powerful mechanism to enhance cybersecurity while providing opportunities for individuals to earn rewards. By incentivizing skilled hackers to uncover vulnerabilities, bug bounty programs enable organizations to tap into a vast pool of talent, often difficult to access otherwise. These programs not only bolster the security posture of companies but also contribute to the broader goal of making the web safer. However, bug bounties require careful management to handle the influx of submissions, prioritize vulnerabilities, and strike a balance between high-severity defects and smaller-value issues. With the right approach and effective collaboration, bug bounties offer a win-win situation, fostering a secure digital landscape while empowering the cybersecurity community.

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