Bug bounty programmes have develop into a well-liked approach for code evaluations; both at the side of, or as a substitute of, penetration testing. Rather than an organisation counting on their very own inside groups to evaluate code for vulnerabilities, bug bounty programmes can be utilized to outsource the testing to exterior researchers.

The origin of bug bounty programmes could be traced again to 1988, when the hacker neighborhood testified earlier than the US Senate about web vulnerabilities. Since then, bug bounties have develop into a proper course of, with consumer organisations with the ability to adjust to the ISO normal for vulnerability disclosure (ISO/IEC 29147:2018).
Bug bounty programmes are just like “wild west” wished posters, in that monetary rewards are paid to exterior events, on this case for the profitable identification of vulnerabilities in code. The benefit of utilizing bug bounty programmes over an in-house penetration testing staff is that the expertise pool is way bigger, bringing in a wider talent set, which permits for steady evaluations because the code is developed.
“We think it is really difficult to have 100% confidence that you have found everything, even with internal controls,” says Adrian Ludwig, chief info safety officer for Atlassian. “This is why bug bounty programmes become a really valuable way to tap into resources that you could not [otherwise] bring to bear before you ship.”
One of the important thing benefits of bug bounty programmes is the range of considering they supply. This gives advantages which might be broader than only a vary of skill-sets, as totally different cultures are likely to have totally different problem-solving strategies.
There can also be native components that code builders are unaware of. “Researchers in one country may have one version of the product that is localised in a local language and as a result they pick up on different behaviour,” says Ludwig.
However, an over-reliance on bug bounty programmes must be prevented. As Luta Security CEO and bug bounty pioneer Katie Moussouris just lately warned in an interview with Computer Weekly, bug bounties shouldn’t be thought-about as a alternative for penetration testing.

Ludwig observes: “The reality of security assurance is that there is no silver bullet. There are a lot of different technologies; all of them are getting better over time. But it is really important that you deploy as many overlapping technologies as possible.”
Despite the benefits, bug bounty programmes carry with them inherent challenges that should be addressed with the intention to be absolutely efficient and worthwhile. A poorly carried out bug bounty programme can result in improvement groups changing into swamped by notifications, leading to vulnerabilities being missed and a harassed workforce.
That mentioned, these challenges could be mitigated as follows:
1. Perform a pre-review cross with machine studying instruments
Prior to initiating a bug bounty programme, and particularly when the undertaking is already in improvement, organisations ought to take the time to evaluate the code utilizing machine studying instruments to establish any quick-fix bugs.
Not solely will this scale back the variety of bug bounties to be paid, it’s going to additionally enable the researchers to focus their time on looking for the extra refined and fewer apparent bugs.
“Machine-based tools are good way to speed everything up during a first pass, so the human has more time for the deep dives and to look at the more unusual things,” says Colin Tankard, managing director of Digital Pathways.
2. Enact strict versioning guidelines
One of the important thing routines a improvement staff ought to adhere to is following a strict versioning system, thus guaranteeing the newest model is shared for evaluate. Complications can come up if the event staff is engaged on one model of the code whereas the evaluate staff is inspecting one other.
As effectively as being inefficient, conflicting variations of code may cause confusion when researchers are referencing components of the code which might be probably not there, or have been considerably modified.
Organisations want to make sure their improvement groups adhere to management-led, organisation-wide, versioning procedures. This must be carried out at the side of confirming that the newest variations of the code are printed for evaluate, thereby guaranteeing that everybody is engaged on the identical code.
“We have experienced where the code is being developed by an internal team and it only takes somebody to pull the wrong version or not to upload it in time, for it to start to become out of synch,” says Tankard.
3. Introduce bug bounties sooner relatively than later
Ideally, like typical inside testing, bug bounty programmes must be carried out because the code is being developed. This permits bugs to be noticed sooner, permitting them to be resolved with minimal affect on the general coding.
Waiting till improvement is almost accomplished carries with it the potential for deeply embedded flaws to be uncovered. This might require vital modifications to the code, which might have been mitigated had they been found sooner.
4. Scale up the bounties
One of the best challenges when first introducing a bug bounty programme is that organisations could be inundated with outcomes. This could be overwhelming and demoralising for a improvement staff. To mitigate this, organisations ought to begin with lower-priced bounties, thereby decreasing the variety of bugs more likely to be reported within the early levels of the bug bounty programme.
As the bug bounty programme continues, and the extra simply found bugs have been discovered, organisations can begin to enhance the bounties. This incentivises a better variety of researchers to spend extra time inspecting the code for subtler bugs.
“We try to guide the bug bounty programme to areas that are particularly interesting or complex, by looking at how much we pay,” says Ludwig. “If a product is not getting as much attention as we would like, we increase the amount we will pay for specific issues.”
5. Gradually enhance the variety of researchers reviewing the code
Organisations may think about opening the programme solely to a restricted variety of researchers initially, thereby stopping a surge of studies regarding the extra apparent bugs.
As with proscribing the preliminary rewards, organisations can start to extend the variety of researchers inspecting the code for potential vulnerabilities because the bug bounty programme matures.
An extension of this is able to be to utterly change the researchers inspecting the code as soon as the variety of bug studies begin slowing down, permitting new individuals, with totally different backgrounds and skill-sets, to look at the code.
“The idea is to slowly ramp up not only the customer development but also the researchers,” says David Baker, chief safety officer of BugCrowd. “You train both sides of the market place to provide value to each other.”
6. Curate the outcomes
Often the bugs which were discovered might be duplicates of what others researchers uncover on the identical time. Rather than having the outcomes fed on to the event staff, and probably distracting them with the identical bugs being repeatedly reported, organisations ought to make sure the suggestions is curated.
It can also be vital to test that the submissions can’t result in the introduction of vulnerabilities into the code. These might happen as a real mistake, however equally – particularly in fintech industries – probably be deliberate malfeasance by malicious actors wishing to subvert the code.
“We score bug reports using the common vulnerability scoring system, which is an industry standard way of scoring those issues, and have a service level agreement process,” says Ludwig. “There is a rate at which issues must be resolved, based on the severity of the issue, we bracket them as low, medium, high or critical issues.”
7. Have the bug bounty programme type a part of the event cycle
Having a bug bounty in place is one factor, however the suggestions must disseminated in an orderly and concise vogue. Rather than bombarding improvement groups with limitless notifications when bugs are discovered, distracting them and probably inflicting one other bug to be created, organisations ought to incorporate the suggestions into staff conferences to make sure the data is satisfactorily disseminated.
“Two main challenges exist when integrating bug bounties into an existing cycle. First, a team doesn’t know when new reports appear, so it’s not possible to plan proactively,” says Tim Douglas, an operations engineer at DuckDuckGo. “Second, the reported vulnerabilities can be severe, becoming the top priority and delaying other work.”
Although organisations can distribute the suggestions as a daily e-mail detailing all the found bugs, it might be higher to introduce the suggestions in a gathering, to advertise dialogue and encourage artistic considering.
The key level right here is to make sure that the event staff is frequently up to date with the newest suggestions in a concise format with out inflicting pointless distraction. This will enable the event staff to work extra effectively, by highlighting which components of the code must be prioritised.
8. Ensure reported bugs are resolved swiftly
Not solely can or not it’s expensive for organisations to pay for beforehand recognized bugs that haven’t but been mounted, however researchers could be left feeling pissed off and unappreciated when they’re repeatedly discovering the identical bugs.
A strict improvement cycle ensures any reported bugs are swiftly resolved, with out interrupting the builders with limitless notifications. A code evaluate assembly on the graduation of the week, discussing bugs that should be resolved, permits improvement groups to plan when and the way the bugs are resolved.

Also, scheduling time for debugging, or assigning a part of the event staff to deal with this, can additional assist with resolving bugs earlier than the following model goes stay.
“Even if you have been penetration-tested, if you do not have a means by which to take a vulnerability presented to the development team to have fixed and prioritised according to its criticality, any pen test or bug bounty is not going to be effective,” says Baker.
9. Maintain undertaking confidentiality
One of the primary advantages of counting on inside penetration testing is that it reduces the chance of publicity to malicious actors. However, with the suitable safety protocols, these dangers could be mitigated.
Rather than utilising an open bug bounty platform, the place anyone can view the code, organisations can use what is named a closed bug bounty platform, wherein solely sure researchers are invited to participate.
Researchers could be curated based mostly on being positively recognized, passing a background test, and/or signing a non-disclosure settlement.
While proscribing entry to a bug bounty programme can restrict one in all their core advantages, particularly a large skill-set by the broad vary of researchers, it does enable an organisation to have controlling measures in place to keep up undertaking confidentiality and safety.
10. Ongoing evaluate, relatively than short-term evaluation
Ideally, bug bounty programmes must be an ongoing evaluate all through the lifecycle of the product, relatively than a short-term evaluate.
As many on-line functions have ongoing assist and common patches to replace the code towards the vulnerabilities, these trigger the code to evolve and develop in ways in which have been unexpected by the event staff. These updates have the potential to create inadvertent vulnerabilities, which organisations could also be unaware of if they don’t have a bug bounty programme.
Furthermore, having a bug bounty programme as a part of the replace cycle permits for the code to be consistently reviewed by exterior events. This, in flip, permits organisations to focus extra of their sources on improvement initiatives, thereby permitting new merchandise to be developed sooner.
Having these new merchandise out there available on the market sooner will enable organisations to cowl the prices of their ongoing bug bounty programmes for his or her present merchandise.
Bug bounty programmes enable organisations to raised handle their very own sources and develop the potential expertise pool of safety researchers inspecting their code. However, these programmes should be rigorously managed and curated, in order that improvement groups are usually not overwhelmed.
The secret’s for organisations to stay open to constructive criticism and settle for that they are going to by no means – internally – spot each vulnerability. “One of the things companies hang up on is inviting random researchers to look at their security.  They want more control of the situation,” concludes Ludwig.
“When you have a bug bounty programme, you have some definition of what that engagement should look like. It actually ends up being more transparent, but also more controlled.”

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