Secure Your Web and Mobile Applications with Bug Bounties

One of our recommendations when it comes to making your mobile app or website more secure is to start a bug bounty. Crowdsourcing works very well when you’re trying to find security exploits in your application. The more friendly eyes you have on your app the more likely you’ll get to find out the major exploits before a hacker does.

Bug bounties have been big for a while now but it’s often hard to know where to start. There are two major websites – Bug Crowd and HackerOne that you might want to start with. I’m sure there are others and you could always create your own bug bounty website but it’s going to be hard to generate enough interest unless you’re a large corporation. So best stick with one of the big name bug bounty sites.

How Much

One question that comes up over and over again when I’m doing a security talk is how much does it cost to run a bug bounty? The answer is, of course, like everything that varies depending on what you want. From the feedback I get, I think people are really asking how much does it cost to do an entry level bug bounty on a single mobile app or website.

To answer that question let’s look at HackerOne website for pricing. The cheapest price $14,000 which equates to about $1000 a month in bounty payments to your loyal security researchers and $200 in processing fees. You can probably do it cheaper by not paying anything and just doing kudos type awards, but that’s probably not going to get you many exploits. They also provide tools to help you manage the incoming defects which can be overwhelming if you get deluged at with lots of reports of the same exploit, especially at the beginning of a bounty period. To be clear that’s just the external costs that doesn’t include your internal team who is responding to the exploits and it also doesn’t include your developer’s costs to fix the defects.

Best Practices

With all the best intentions, if you don’t have a plan then starting a bug bounty is a waste of time and money. Someone should be assigned to manage the incoming defects and to triage the defects before they get passed off to the developers. And someone needs to be assigned to fix the defects. Don’t assume you can pull a developer from any old team to deal with the defects as they arise. It requires effort to keep up with your submissions.

One of the most important Best Practices when running a bug bounty is to be responsive. Contrary to what you might read in the press, there still aren’t a huge amount of new paid bug bounties. Anything new on BugCrowd or HackerOne will attract attention. The quickest way to kill that interest is to be unresponsive. If it starts to feel like researchers are sending their exploits to a black hole they will go elsewhere.

Get back to the researchers with a positive or negative response quickly. A negative response is usually when the submission is a duplicate that has already been reported by someone else or if the exploit isn’t something you that you consider to be an exploit. Be clear up front on when you’re going to pay and when you’re not going to pay, e.g. 3rd party libraries or APIs.

And speaking of duplicate submissions, make sure your developers are ready to fix any exploits and get the new version deployed as soon as you can. If you don’t update early and update often with fixes for any new exploits then researchers will get tired of your duplicate submissions response and once again will go elsewhere. Update your app often to keep interest alive. The exploits will get harder to find over time and your app will grow more secure.

Finally be honest and transparent. Don’t accept submissions before the bug bounty start date. Don’t ever use Bug Bounties as a way to keep security researchers quiet by handcuffing them using terms and conditions. There have been several public examples where companies have dangled large payments in front of researchers but insist that they don’t release the information. They then stall payment till the researcher gets bored and moves on. Eventually, the exploit information will be uncovered.

Conclusion

Bug Bounties are a great way to get lots of friendly eyes to look at your mobile app or website for relatively small amounts of money. Bug Bounty websites such as BugCrowd and HackerOne can provide you with the tools to manage your bug bounty. If you have a plan, respond quickly to your submissions, regularly update your app with security fixes and are honest and transparent about the payments then your app will quickly become more secure.

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