Study: Bug bounty programs provide strong value for vendors

A study of Google's and Mozilla's browser bug programs shows it is money well spent

Paying rewards to independent security researchers for finding software problems is a vastly better investment than hiring employees to do the same work, according to researchers from the University of California Berkeley.

Their study looked at vulnerability reward programs (VRPs) run by Google and Mozilla for the Chrome and Firefox web browsers.

Over the last three years, Google has paid US$580,000 in rewards, and Mozilla has paid $570,000. In the course of those programs, hundreds of vulnerabilities have been fixed in the widely used products.

The programs are very cost effective. Since a North American developer's salary will cost a company about $100,000 with a 50 percent overhead, "we see that the cost of either of these VRPs is comparable to the cost of just one member of the browser security team," the researchers wrote.

Additionally, more eyes on the code meant the VRPs uncovered many more software flaws than just one hired developer could find.

The study provides a sound foundation for reward programs, which are not embraced by all vendors. Adobe Systems and Oracle do not pay for vulnerability information.

Microsoft has traditionally not paid bounties, but did implement a one-off program last month. Through July 26, Microsoft will pay up to $11,000 for bugs in its Internet Explorer 11 browser.

Bug bounties have other advantages, such as by reducing the number of vulnerabilities that are sold to malicious actors who would use the information for criminal activity. The programs also make it harder for hackers to find vulnerabilities, the researchers wrote.

But a key difference between Google's and Mozilla's programs may affect their effectiveness.

Mozilla pays a flat $3,000 reward for a vulnerability. Google pays on a sliding scale, which ranges from $500 to $10,000. Google judges vulnerabilities and exploits on factors such as difficulty and impact.

Google's average payout is just $1,000, but the chance of obtaining a much higher reward appears to provide an incentive for more people to participate in its program, the researchers wrote.

Google's program, while costing about the same as Mozilla's, "has identified more than three times as many bugs, is more popular and shows similar participation from repeat and first-time participants."

"This makes sense with an understanding of incentives in lotteries: the larger the potential prize amount, the more willing participants are to accept a lower expected return, which, for VRPs, means the program can expect more participants," according to the paper.

Also, browser penetration contests such as "Pwnium" run by Google with rewards up to $150,000 sparks more interest among researchers.

"We believe this sort of 'gamification' leads to a higher profile for the Chrome VRP, which may help encourage participation, particularly from researchers interested in wider recognition," the paper said.

"Accordingly, we recommend Mozilla change their reward structure to a tiered system like that of Chrome," it said.

The paper was authored by Matthew Finifter, Devdatta Akhawe and David Wagner.

Send news tips and comments to jeremy_kirk@idg.com. Follow me on Twitter: @jeremy_kirk

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags GooglesecurityExploits / vulnerabilitiesmalwaremozilla

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

Jeremy Kirk

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Kurt Hegetschweiler

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

It’s perfect for mobile workers. Just take it out — it’s small enough to sit anywhere — turn it on, load a sheet of paper, and start printing.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?