Google will begin paying bounties as high as $1,337 to researchers who privately report high-severity security bugs in its Chrome browser and Chromium open-source project.
The "experimental new incentive," which Google announced Thursday, is for external researchers only. It addresses a key complaint among many researchers that the security of far too many applications is built on the backs of people who receive no compensation for the countless hours they spend discovering and reporting critical vulnerabilities.
"It's a step in the right direction because it's compensating security researchers for their time in looking for vulnerabilities," said Dino Dai Zovi, a researcher who last year launched a campaign with the rallying cry "No more free bugs". "A lot of companies treat vulnerabilities as accidental discoveries, which is really not the case."
Over the years, Dai Zovi has reported critical bugs in Sun Microsystems' Solaris and Apple's Mac OS X that could have caused considerable harm to users had the vulnerabilities been exploited by criminals. To date, neither company has paid him a dime. Microsoft, Oracle and virtually every other commercial software manufacturer also steadfastly refuse to reward responsible disclosure, even though their products also benefit from it.
The Internet Explorer bug that criminals used to pierce the defenses of Google and other companies has probably cost Microsoft hundreds of thousands of dollars in man hours and damage to reputation. One can only guess if the vulnerability, which lurked in the browser for years, would have been fixed sooner had white-hat hackers had more of an incentive to find it.
Adobe might also benefit from such a program.
To date only a handful of software makers offer security bug bounties. They apply almost exclusively to open-source projects such as Mozilla's Firefox, Daniel J. Bernstein's djbdns.
Google's program will offer a base reward of $500 for certain reports and as much as $1,337 (the number is often used as hacker shorthand for "elite") for "high and critical impact bugs." A panel established by Google will have sole discretion for awarding cash rewards. ®