Bug bounty programs have gained popularity throughout the tech industry, cropping up at tech giants such as Facebook, Google, and more recently Apple. The programs effectively crowdsource manual penetration testing (pen testing), allowing users to try to break into an application to expose its vulnerabilities (bugs), in exchange for a monetary reward (bounty). This assists in making organizations aware of vulnerabilities to patch before they can be exploited to their own and their users’ detriment. It is understandable why such programs have gained popularity. Companies that produce software need to be made aware of vulnerabilities, and rather than divert their own resources from projects, they can offer the opportunity to the whitehat community at large. It might even, depending on the scale of the operation, be cost effective, as they only have to pay if a vulnerability is successfully located and exploited.
Despite popularity, it is important to note that there are also risks associated with bug bounty programs. Most malicious hackers are incentivized to find exploitable vulnerabilities or user data to sell on the dark web. Should a vulnerability be found by a less-ethical hacker, this knowledge could be sold to a higher, ill-intentioned bidder. Additionally, though bug bounty programs help identify vulnerabilities, they still must be located and patched, meaning they are hardly a cure-all security solution. There's a huge amount of effort just reviewing submissions to weed out the low-quality noise, find the ones that might be real, figure out which team might be responsible, then farm them out to be investigated. Patching vulnerabilities requires the time of developers. This removes them from working on creating new software or features, which is especially difficult in the fast-paced DevOps environment. Patches take time, the SANS Institute 2016 State of Application Security report found that 26% of survey respondents said that vulnerabilities are remediated in 1-7 days of being found, while another 26% said that vulnerabilities are remediated within 8-30 days of being found. This means that for between seven days and a month, the known vulnerability can still be exploited.
While bug bounty programs can be effective, organizations are best served by combining these programs with additional application security measures. Specifically, RASP solutions increase the efficacy and efficiency of bug bounty programs. This is because this AppSec solution runs inside of the application, gaining a privileged perspective of how the application works at runtime, unlike pen-testers or web application firewalls. If a vulnerability is found, exploited, and reported by a hacker participating the bug bounty program, RASP solutions can determine the exact line of code in which the vulnerability exists, and highlight if an actual vulnerability was detected, capture the payload, identify lines of code, which app, and more. This allows developers to locate and patch the vulnerability faster. RASP will also protect that code from being exploited by malicious actors, in real time, until the patch is disseminated. Moreover, bug bounty testers will likely check for simple vulnerabilities using Cross-Site Scripting(XSS) or SQL Injections, but may miss more advanced vulnerabilities like second-order injections, or injections in framework and library code. RASP solutions offer real time protection from unknown vulnerabilities, ensuring that applications are protected even if bug bounty participants miss an exploitable vulnerability.
Bug bounty programs are a good start to developing application defenses. However, they cannot be the only security precaution taken after software is released, as they leave too much to chance. To ensure your bug bounty program makes securing code as effective and efficient as possible, utilize a RASP solution as well. Learn more about RASP in the Real-Time Web Application Security whitepaper.