If there’s one thing that’s held true throughout human history, it’s that greed is a great motivator. Money is called the root of all evil for a reason, after all. Today, we’re going to discuss how you can turn that basest of human emotions – greed – to your advantage with a bug bounty program. More importantly, we’re going to explain why you should.
While cyberattacks certainly do happen for political or personal reasons, the vast majority of hackers are driven by simple greed. When a hacker breaks into your systems, they’re almost always doing so for their own benefit. Whether they’re infecting you with ransomware or exfiltrating data, they’re after money – either from you or from a competitor.
While it would be nice to think idealistically, the reality of the world is that there are few things more motivating than cold, hard cash. That’s something you can actually use to your advantage, though. If people are going to try breaking into your systems no matter what you do, why not pay them for their efforts?
I’m not talking about caving to ransomware or letting black hats make off with your data. I’m speaking about establishing a bug bounty program, about offering gray and white hat hackers the opportunity to make some money by finding the cracks in your armor.
Why You Should Consider a Bug Bounty Program
There are a few reasons this is a good idea, provided your business has the maturity to support it:
- Your own IT department is ultimately limited. No matter how large your business is, you only have so many man-hours you can dedicate to hunting down vulnerabilities. Via a bug bounty program, your professionals can shift their attention towards innovation and business growth rather than searching for security flaws.
- Every organization has blind spots – cybersecurity shortcomings your team may not be aware of that may be obvious to a seasoned outsider. A bug bounty program opens up your organization to men and women with the capacity to recognize issues which you might otherwise never uncover.
- It’s cost-effective. Even if you offer a hefty reward to bug bounty participants, it’ll probably still leave less of a dent in your budget than a data breach. Moreover, it’s also less expensive than paying internal staff to search for a vulnerability.
At this point, you’re probably thinking about immediately starting a bug bounty program of your own. I’d caution you against doing so, however. Bug bounties aren’t a great fit for every organization – before you jump in, there are a few things you should first consider.
Maximizing Your Bug Bounty Program’s Effectiveness
As noted by Bishop Fox Partner Christie Terrill, a business needs a certain level of maturity before a successful bug bounty program is feasible. It must be well-staffed and well-funded, with a decent-sized IT department and a good marketing arm. A business’s leadership also needs to understand what’s involved in such a program.
First, it’s important to clearly establish your program’s goals and scope well in advance. Participants should know exactly what systems they’re examining and what sorts of vulnerabilities they’re searching for, and you should know exactly what your objectives are from the beginning. A miscommunication here could easily lead to people abandoning your bug bounty program in droves.
Let’s say, for example, you start a bug bounty program to find a weakness in an application’s authentication process. If you don’t clearly communicate that this is the purpose of your program, you’re likely to have participants probing other areas of your infrastructure, only to become discouraged when you refuse to reward them for their efforts.
Second, it’s critical that you have a system in place to effectively receive bug reports. Your submission process is every bit as important as the program itself. Give bug hunters a clear avenue through which they can contact you, whether that’s a secure web portal, an email, or a chatroom.
Thirdly – and perhaps most interestingly – understand that bug hunters aren’t solely motivated by money. If they were, they’d be black hats. The men and women who participate in bug bounty programs are after a cash reward, true, but they also want to do right by your business and its clientele.
Treat them as such. Thank them for their help, and clearly establish how and when they’ll be rewarded for their efforts. Work to establish positive relationships with them as though they’re trusted vendors or business partners.
Finally, make sure you have a development cycle that can quickly and efficiently apply fixes to any vulnerabilities or flaws discovered through your program. After all, patching vulnerabilities is the end goal of any bug bounty program. If you don’t have developers standing by to do so, what’s the point?
“Don’t proceed without a framework in place to receive and remediate bugs,” cautions Terrill. “Otherwise, you run the risk of not only failing to meet your program’s goals, but also in a worst-case scenario, of paying out for bugs that don’t really matter … Bug bounties are part and parcel to a vulnerability management program and should never comprise the entire process. They are a complement to ongoing penetration testing engagements and should never preclude an organization from continuing and managing their own vulnerability assessments.”
A bug bounty program can be a great way of uncovering vulnerabilities that might otherwise go unannounced and undiscovered. Provided you have a proper vulnerability management framework, a well-staffed IT department, and a solid understanding of what a bug bounty program involves, it’s a great way to augment your existing cybersecurity processes. Just make sure it’s not the only thing you do to protect your data – even the best bug bounty is no replacement for a strong pre-existing security posture.
Matthew Davis works as a writer for Future Hosting, a leading provider of VPS hosting. He focuses on data news, cybersecurity, and web development topics. You can usually find him hiding behind a computer screen, searching for the next breaking news in the tech industry. For more great articles, check out FH’s blog.
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