What Are Bug Bounties?

By: Robert Siciliano  |  November 17, 2015

bugA bug bounty refers to the reward a bad-guy hacker gets upon discovering a vulnerability, weakness or flaw in a company’s system.

This is akin to giving a reward to a burglar for pointing out weaknesses in your home’s security.

But whom better to ask than a burglar, right? Same with a company’s computer systems: The best expert may be the black hat or better, white hat hacker.

An article at bits.blogs.nytimes.com says that Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Dropbox, PayPal and Yahoo are on the roster of companies that are offering hackers bounties for finding “bugs” in their systems.

A “zero day bug” refers to an undiscovered flaw or security hole. Cybercriminals want to know what these zero day bugs are, to exploit for eventual hacking attempts. There is a bustling black market for these non-identified bugs.

Compounding the issue is that it is becoming easier for Joe Hacker to acquire the skills to infiltrate—skills that common hackers never would have had just a few years ago, and especially a decade ago. So you can see how important it is for businesses to hire the best at finding these bugs and rewarding them handsomely.

So yes, hackers are being paid to report bugs. The bits.blogs.nytimes.com article says that Facebook and Microsoft even sponsor an Internet Bug Bounty program. Such a program should have been started long ago, but it took some overlooked bugs to motivate these technology companies to offer the bounties.

Heartbleed is an example. Remember that? It was a programming code mistake that affected certain SSL certificates—which help protect users on a secure website. As a result, over a dozen major tech companies began an initiative to, as the bits.blogs.nytimes.com article says, “pay for security audits in widely used open-source software.”

So as clever as bug bounties sound, it shouldn’t be regarded as the be-all end-all solution. How about an incentive to get developers to implement secure, mistake-free coding practices? Well, companies are trying. And they keep trying. But with humans behind the technology, there will always be mistakes.

Robert Siciliano is an identity theft expert to bestcompany.com discussing  identity theft prevention.

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