ISS slates TippingPoint over hacking contest

Bug bounties are the work of the devil, claims rival

IBM's ISS division has torn into rival TippingPoint for sponsoring the hacking contest that led to the disclosure of a QuickTime vulnerability in Apple's Safari browser.

Such criticism isn't new. Two Gartner analysts, Rich Mogull and Greg Young, made the same point a week ago in their analysis of April's CanSecWest security conference, which saw US$10,000 put up as a prize for managing to hack Apple computers in an open challenge.

The hole that allowed hacking challenger Dino Dai Zovi to win the prize, turned out to be a potentially serious unpatched vulnerability affecting all OS X computers. TippingPoint said that Apple would be informed privately, but others have pointed out this is no guarantee that the exploit information could not have made it into the public domain by other channels.

"The publicity around the contest has exposed thousands of companies to potential compromise through browser attacks, said Kris Lamb of ISS in a statement. "This contest is an excellent example of what can happen when security companies do not have a strict separation of "church and state" between marketing and vulnerability research.

"IBM Internet Security Systems agrees with Gartner's assessment that "public vulnerability research and 'hacking contests' are risky endeavors, and can run contrary to responsible disclosure practices." It is for this reason that IBM ISS strongly adheres to its well-established responsible disclosure guidelines."

The faultlines of this controversy were laid two years ago with the launch by TippingPoint of its Zero Day Initiative, in the days before the company was acquired by current owners 3Com. Under the scheme, researchers have been paid to report vulnerabilities, which the company then incorporates into its subscription-based corporate security services.

From TippingPoint's perspective, such rewards are simply an effective means of getting professional researchers -- including those who hack for profit -- to disclose security issues in a responsible way. Others, including ISS, see it as artificially fuelling the discovery process.

ISS's Lamb remains scornful of this justification: "While the supposed justification behind buying third party vulnerabilities is talked about in altruistic terms of benefiting technology, industry, and security. I don't buy that. In the simplest terms buying third party vulnerability research is just a cheap for a company to get their hands on vulnerabilities, create the ruse of offering pre-emptive protection with legacy signature based protection technologies, and buying two cent marketing and hype."

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

John E. Dunn
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Crucial Ballistix Elite 32GB Kit (4 x 8GB) DDR4-3000 UDIMM

Learn more >

Gadgets & Things

Lexar® Professional 1000x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Family Friendly

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Plox Star Wars Death Star Levitating Bluetooth Speaker

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles


GGG Evaluation Team

Kathy Cassidy


First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni


For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Steph Mundell


The Fujitsu LifeBook UH574 allowed for great mobility without being obnoxiously heavy or clunky. Its twelve hours of battery life did not disappoint.

Andrew Mitsi


The screen was particularly good. It is bright and visible from most angles, however heat is an issue, particularly around the Windows button on the front, and on the back where the battery housing is located.

Simon Harriott


My first impression after unboxing the Q702 is that it is a nice looking unit. Styling is somewhat minimalist but very effective. The tablet part, once detached, has a nice weight, and no buttons or switches are located in awkward or intrusive positions.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?