Long-running computer security website Packet Storm has launched a bug bounty scheme to reward folks who find and report holes in software. Details of qualifying flaws will eventually be publicly disclosed.
Under the new scheme, contributors will be typically paid anywhere between a few hundred dollars and $7,000 for exploits that enable miscreants to execute arbitrary code on vulnerable systems. Holes uncovered in Adobe Reader, Adobe Flash and Internet Explorer are worth top dollar to the website. The site is not in the market for exploits that only crash computers, however.
All work will be vetted prior to payment, as an FAQ on the scheme explains:
The list of targets that we are looking for moves constantly. If you believe that you can offer us quality exploits that demonstrate proper code execution, it is worth a discussion. It is vitally important that you can articulate what is being exploited, how it is being exploited, what systems and patch levels can be exploited, and that your work is 100 per cent yours to sell. We will not accept exploits that already have public proof of concepts that provide code execution nor will we accept known plagiarized work.
Different issues and different levels of exploit offer different levels of compensation. Typical payout for a working exploit ranges from $1,000 - $7,000 USD. If you have a zero-day that you believe is worth a lot more, there is the opportunity for larger payouts, but that requires a different discussion. Nothing is off the table. That said, what is currently being solicited are code execution exploits for "0.5-day"* vulnerabilities in Microsoft Windows, Oracle Java, and more. As we will have to pay you money, we will need to know your real identity and also your complete honesty.
Several vendors including Google, Mozilla, Facebook and PayPal have offered bug bounties for security researchers who find flaws in their products or services. The money is typically paid out once the bugs are identified, fixed and patches rolled out to users. Google has been known to write cheques for $20,000.
Security technology vendors such as iDefense and HP TippingPoint's Zero-Day Initiative (ZDI) also act as middlemen between bug-hunters and big software makers, by offering researchers between $500 and $20,000 for exclusive details of security bugs. This information can be used to warn vendors and corporations of upcoming attacks, using the logic that if one researcher can find the bug and report it then so can hackers.
Buying up vulnerability information also allows, for example, HP TippingPoint's network defence products to detect and block new or anticipated assaults.
Packet Storm's bug bounty probably isn't as lucrative as the ZDI scheme, and much less what's available through underground exploit marketplaces, but it offers a more open and community-focussed exchange of research.
"The big difference between us and other bug bounties is that we're actually going to publicly release the exploit after 60 days (author-permitting) so the community can test their patches from vendors as well, instead of just hoarding it for our own personal test arsenal," Todd Jarvis, chief exec of Packet Storm Security, told El Reg. ®
* 0.5-day, in this context, means vulnerabilities that are publicly known but only recently patched. This is in contrast to 0-day, meaning vulnerabilities in the wild that are unpatched and unknown but exploited.