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How Bug Bounty Programs Are Revolutionizing Cybersecurity

With increasing frequency and sophistication of cyberattacks, organizations are constantly looking for ways to secure their systems and protect themselves from potential threats. Can hacking help? Well, ask bug bounty programs.

Bug bounties incentivize a community of researchers called ethical hackers or bug hunters to find and report security vulnerabilities in a company’s systems in exchange for a reward. By tapping into a vast network of cybersecurity researchers, these programs allow companies to identify potential threats that might have gone unnoticed otherwise.

Major tech giants like Google, Microsoft, and Meta have been leading the way by offering substantial rewards for reporting vulnerabilities. Facebook has paid out as much as £15,912 for a single bug report, while Google paid Chrome O/S bug reporters a combined £5,56,930 in 2022. These impressive payouts have made bug bounty programs an attractive option for cybersecurity experts – but what can companies stand to gain by opening the door to hackers?

When did bug bounty programs begin? 

Bug bounty programs have roots trailing back to 1983, when a program was launched for the Versatile Real-Time Executive operating system. The program offered a reward to those who reported bugs, and the reward was a Volkswagen Beetle, also known as a “bug”. 

There are two types of bug bounties – public and private. A public bug bounty is one that is advertised on websites (like HackerOne, HackenProof, Bugcrowd or the company’s website) and participation is open to all.

A private bug bounty is by invitation-only and is usually based on the researcher’s reputation. If a researcher is known for finding exploitable bugs consistently, they may be invited to private programs. However, to ensure ethical and moral behavior, individuals who take part in these programs must adhere to the terms of service and rules of engagement specified by the program. 

Patching cybersecurity holes

First and most obviously, bug bounty programs identify vulnerabilities in a company’s systems or apps that may have been overlooked by internal cybersec or QA teams. This unravels into a list of benefits including saving companies money by identifying and fixing potential security issues before they can be exploited.

Prevention is often cheaper than remediation – which is on-the-nose for cybersecurity. Paying a bounty to learn about a vulnerability is much cheaper than remediating data breaches and security incidents which damage reputation or result in legal liabilities.

Extending on the above, these programs unlock access to a much larger pool of security talent than they might otherwise have. By opening their code to the security community, companies can tap into the knowledge and skills of thousands of security researchers worldwide. This can be especially valuable for smaller companies that might not have the resources to hire a full-time security team. 

Companies taking the lead in bug bounty programs

Give below are some of the popular companies leading the bug bounty programs: 

Google:  Google has been running its primary bug bounty program since 2010, focusing on core domains like google.com, youtube.com, and blogger.com. Ethical hackers who discover critical security flaws can receive rewards reaching up to £15,912 from Google, making it a lucrative program for top researchers. 

Microsoft: Microsoft’s bug bounty program, launched in 2013, is known for its significant payouts. The company has distributed over £50 million to security researchers in the past decade, demonstrating their commitment to rewarding valuable vulnerability reports. 

Intel: The Intel Bug Bounty Program offers rewards to security researchers who identify and report vulnerabilities in Intel’s hardware, firmware and software products. The amount of bounty payment ranges from £397 to £79,561 and is based on the severity and type of the vulnerability, as well as the quality and content of the researcher’s report.  

Lazada: Lazada, which is owned by Alibaba, has a bug bounty program that rewards security researchers with up to £7956 per bounty. The program encourages researchers to identify and report vulnerabilities of personal data in Lazada’s systems. 

Meta: Meta, the parent company of several popular social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger, has a bounty program in place that rewards individuals who find potential security or privacy risks. The minimum amount for a reward is s$500 and the company has clearly defined requirements that must be met for a report to be considered valid. Additionally, Meta ensures that every valid report is acknowledged and reviewed. If multiple people identify the same issue, the person who submits the report first will receive the reward. 

Distilled 

Bug bounty programs demonstrate companies’ commitment to cybersecurity by proactively seeking out and addressing potential vulnerabilities. These programs foster trust and collaboration between companies and the cybersecurity community while also helping to ensure a safe and secure online experience for all users.

Nidhi Singh

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