A bug bounty is an incentive organizations offer to individuals or security researchers to discover and report vulnerabilities in software, websites, or digital infrastructures. The goal? To identify and address security flaws before threat actors or hackers can exploit them.

Bug bounties serve as proactive approaches to security testing since they engage a community of skilled individuals to continuously test how secure a system is. They can be a cost-effective way for companies to identify and fix bugs and improve their overall security posture.

Read More about a Bug Bounty

Did you know that the term “bug bounty” was coined by Jarrett Ridlinghafer, a technical support engineer at Netscape Communications Corporation, in 1995? Back then, Netscape wanted to encourage its employees to push themselves and do whatever it took to get the job done.

What Is a Bug Bounty Program?

In the Wild West, sharp-shooting bounty hunters tracked down wanted criminals and brought them to justice in exchange for rewards from the authorities. Fast forward to the 21st century. Enter a similar reward incentive in the “World Wild Web” called a “bug bounty program.”

Website owners or businesses offer attractive rewards to individuals who report exploitable site or software vulnerabilities, typically in the form of money or recognition. They pay extra for zero-days, of course.

Bug bounty programs, also called “vulnerability rewards programs,” are usually launched through crowdsourcing initiatives.

How Does a Bug Bounty Program Work?

In a bug bounty program, an organization establishes a framework that outlines the rules, scope, and rewards for finding and reporting security vulnerabilities. It usually provides a platform where participants can submit their findings. The bugs can range from simple coding errors to more complex and critical security flaws.

Participants, often dubbed “bug bounty hunters” or “bug bounty researchers,” actively search for vulnerabilities within the defined program scope. When they find a bug, they document and report it to the organizer. The company then verifies the vulnerability and determines its severity and impact. The participants get rewarded with a bounty or monetary prize for valid findings.

How to Run a Bug Bounty Program

How Much Is a Typical Bug Bounty?

Bug bounty amounts can significantly vary, depending on various factors, including who runs the program, how severe a discovered vulnerability is, and the program’s overall scope. They can range from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars or even more.

Some organizations offer a fixed bounty amount for specific vulnerabilities. They may, for instance, offer US$500 for a critical vulnerability, US$200 for a high-severity vulnerability, and so on. Others determine the bug bounty amount from case to case, considering the reported vulnerability’s severity, impact, and complexity.

Today, many companies have significantly increased their bug bounty rewards, especially for critical vulnerabilities. Some large tech companies like Google, Microsoft, and Facebook, for example, have been known to offer rewards amounting to tens of thousands of dollars for severe vulnerabilities that could potentially compromise their systems and solutions.

It’s important to note that not all bug bounty programs offer monetary rewards alone. Some also provide recognition that can add to a researcher’s reputation within the cybersecurity community. In fact, some participants engage in such programs to showcase their skills and build their professional reputation.

What Are Some Examples of Bug Bounty Programs?

Many organizations run bug bounty programs, but here are a few examples of the most popular ones.

  • HackerOne: HackerOne is one of the leading platforms that connects security researchers with companies offering bug bounties. It hosts bug bounty programs for several companies, including Airbnb, Dropbox, Twitter, and GitHub.
  • Google Vulnerability Reward Program (VRP): Google has one of the most well-established and generous bug bounty programs. It covers various Google products and services like Google Chrome, Android, and Google Cloud Platform. Rewards for critical vulnerabilities can reach as high as US$200,000.
  • Facebook Bug Bounty: Facebook has an ongoing bug bounty program that covers its platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Oculus. It has paid out significant rewards for vulnerabilities and offers bonuses for high-quality reports and finding bugs in third-party software that affects its platforms.
  • Microsoft Bug Bounty Program: Microsoft has a comprehensive bug bounty program that covers products like Windows, Microsoft Office, Azure, and Microsoft Edge. It provides rewards for different vulnerabilities and has specific programs like the Microsoft Identity Bounty Program and the Azure DevOps Bounty Program.
  • Apple Security Bounty: Apple runs a bug bounty program for its products, including iOS, macOS, and iCloud. The program rewards many vulnerabilities, with higher bounties for critical security issues.

These are just a few examples. Many other organizations run bug bounty programs, including technology companies, financial institutions, and government agencies. Bug bounty programs can be specific to particular products or services or be more comprehensive, covering a wide range of assets and technologies within a company.

A bug bounty, as you’ve learned, can help foster positive relationships between security researchers and organizations, leading to ongoing collaboration and improved security practices.

Key Takeaways

  • A bug bounty is an incentive organizations offer to individuals or security researchers to discover and report vulnerabilities in software, websites, or digital infrastructures.
  • Bug bounty or vulnerability rewards programs are usually launched through crowdsourcing initiatives.
  • HackerOne, Google VRP, Facebook Bug Bounty, Microsoft Bug Bounty Program, and Apple Security Bounty are probably the most well-known bug bounty programs today. Google VRP likely offers the most generous rewards.