Penetration TestJan Kahmen8 min read

Bug Bounty Programs in Cyber Security

Bug bounties motivate hackers to find vulnerabilities in software. Fair treatment and appropriate remuneration encourage them to report the gaps to the company.

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Anyone who operates a platform makes every effort to close potential security gaps. This also applies to companies that want to protect their sensitive data. That's why bug bounty programs and vulnerability assessments have been around for a long time. With them you can motivate people to find vulnerabilities in your software. By treating them fairly and paying them appropriately, you encourage them to report the gaps to your company. Otherwise, there is a possibility that they will be exploited or sold by others.

Bug Bounty: Searching for Security Holes

Security gaps and software bugs are a serious problem for companies. That's why the so-called bounty often ranges from $1,000 to $200,000. If, on the other hand, you find a small security hole or information leak, that too will be paid, although not as high.
But why are companies willing to pay for such a bug bounty program in the first place? If a company has the application regularly checked for vulnerabilities, it can close the affected gaps. In this case, the bug bounty programs are fixed. In this way, the company ensures that the desired areas are checked. The expenses for the white hats are much lower than if sensitive data is stolen or the system is permanently tricked.
If you want to participate in a bug bounty program yourself, you will find what you are looking for on HackerOne and Bugcrowd. Both platforms have been established for a long time and offer a strong community. It is important to note: Before submitting the product to a program, it is worthwhile to arrange for a vulnerability assessment. This uncovers possible vulnerabilities without stealing data.

What is a Bug Bounty Program?

Bug Bounty is basically a subset of VDPs (Vulnerability Disclosure Programs). They offer security researchers a financial reward for testing a program for vulnerability. Behind this is a pay-for-results model. This means that a larger group of people independently sets out to find vulnerabilities. The resulting reports are collected via crowdsourcing.
Such a bug bounty can be private or public. If it is public, you can participate at any time. If it is private, on the other hand, you need an invitation from the respective community.
The key advantage for companies is that they only pay a bounty when a valid result is delivered. At the same time, the programs scale effectively in large areas. Companies suffering from staff shortages thus have the opportunity to offer a reliable result in spite of everything.

The Difference Between Bug Bounty and Penetration Testing

One of the most obvious differences between a Penetration Test and Bug Bounty is the scale. While an IT expert is hired for a PenTest, you rely on a large and active community for a Bug Bounty. This community searches for security vulnerabilities within a small, well-defined scope.
Another difference is the way the test is conducted. PenTests are often carried out professionally by a team of experts. Bug Bounty Hunters usually work alone. Here, the swarm intelligence comes into play. Within the community, you will find individual testers who use different programs, some of which they have developed themselves. This ensures that your application is tested from a variety of angles. The probability of discovering a vulnerability increases enormously.

More Cyber Security with Bug Bounty

With a bug bounty program your applications become more secure and ultimately save costs. But when does it actually pay off to put a bounty on bugs? The bug bounty is worthwhile in the following situations:

  • When security is your top priority and you want to resolve issues quickly as well as transparently.
  • When you want to give public credit to those who help you find vulnerabilities. After all, in this case you are honoring their contributions.
  • If you want to offer a financial incentive to analyze your systems in detail.

Especially important: If someone identifies a vulnerability in your system and informs you about it? Then you should neither threaten nor take any inappropriate punitive action. After all, a bug bounty report helps you to improve the security of your application.

When can You Start a Bug Bounty Program?

However, you should not just start with a bug bounty program. Before you can get started, you need to notify the entire organization. Only then will the vulnerability reports from outside be accepted by the responsible people. At the same time, you ensure that other employees can follow the process as soon as the first bugs are reported. It is especially important that you inform your IT security team about this. The team must be aware of the measures and their tasks and the resulting responsibility. Do you want your bug bounty to be effective? Then it is important to understand the hackers, build a relationship with them and actively respond to the requests.

Closing Cyber Security Gaps with Bug Bounty

Almost daily, small and specialized teams have to defend themselves against cybercriminals. The acute shortage of skilled workers does not make it any easier to find the urgently needed employees. That's why many companies are choosing to use Bug Bounty to improve their own security measures.

What makes a Successful Bug Bounty Program?

A successful bug bounty program is characterized by different aspects. It is especially important that you have the entire company on your side. Therefore, it is necessary to inform the employees about the planned procedure.
It is also important that you distribute the bounties fairly. In this way, you will show the necessary respect to those who are looking for loopholes in your system. Therefore, your rewards must be competitive and clearly defined as well as structured. This encourages bounty hunters to keep looking for your bugs.

What are the Risks?

The biggest challenge is to avoid false positives. You also need sufficient resources, both financial and human. After all, the bounty hunters want to be paid and the vulnerability reports want to be read. This is only possible if you create a transparent process. These guidelines define how the reports have to be submitted and who has to take care of them.

How to Avoid the Risks

If you want to avoid bug bounty problems from the start, it is best to use an established platform. This is provided by a third party and allows you to have a close relationship with the hackers. It also provides clear guidelines that the community must adhere to so that the hackers themselves do not pose a security threat.
The following are considerations you should make before you set out to release a bug bounty program for your software:

  • What is the balance between finding the software bugs and fixing them?
  • Does your organization have a proven and efficient process for fixing security bugs?
  • Do you need additional resources to identify gaps in your IT system?

If these points apply, then it makes sense to outsource this process via a bug bounty. The large community of hackers offers a high degree of flexibility and helps to look at your own software from new angles.


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