11 Nov How to Start a Bug Bounty Program
As cyber threats become increasingly sophisticated, businesses are turning to ethical hackers as a proactive measure to combat these threats.
Ethical hackers use the same techniques and tools as malicious hackers, but they do so legally and with the permission of the organization they are targeting. This growing industry is attracting more and more professionals, who can earn a six-figure salary in some cases.
One way that these professionals are earning their income is through bug bounty programs. These are formal rewards and recognition programs that offer monetary incentives to ethical hackers who identify security vulnerabilities in a company’s digital systems and web applications.
Bug bounties are gaining popularity as a cost-effective way for businesses to protect their networks and applications to stay ahead of potential cyber threats. But should you launch a bug bounty program? And how do you get started?
In the below article, we’ll discuss how to determine if a bug bounty program is right for your business, as well as the key steps you should take to create and manage your program successfully.
When Does a Bug Bounty Program Make Sense?
There are several factors to consider when determining if a bug bounty program would be a good fit for your business. These include:
- Your company’s current level of cyber security expertise and resources.
- The number and sophistication of potential threats facing your business.
- The size and complexity of your digital assets and infrastructure.
If your organization already has some level of cyber security expertise and resources, then launching a bug bounty program can be a great way to take your security efforts to the next level.
However, if your company is lacking in these areas, you may want to prioritize other cyber security initiatives first. This could include hiring additional staff or conducting a thorough risk assessment to better understand your vulnerabilities first.
If your company is facing a high number of sophisticated cyber threats, then working with ethical hackers can be an effective way to identify and mitigate these threats before they become a serious problem.
Similarly, if your digital assets are large or complex, then it may be more difficult for your internal security team to monitor and protect them. In this case, working with ethical hackers via a bug bounty program could be a smart strategy.
Ultimately, the decision to launch a bug bounty program is a complex one that requires careful consideration of your company’s unique security needs, resources, and risks. By doing your research and understanding the pros and cons of this approach, you can make an informed decision that will help ensure the safety and security of your business’s digital assets.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Launching a Bug Bounty Program?
There are a number of pros and cons to launching a bug bounty program. Below we’ve outlined the primary advantages and disadvantages of this approach to help you make the best decision for your business.
- Access to a large, highly skilled pool of ethical hackers who can identify and mitigate security vulnerabilities quickly and effectively
- Cost-effective way to protect your digital assets against sophisticated cyber threats
- Increased transparency and collaboration with the security research community
- Requires a significant investment in time and resources to manage and run effectively
- Requires a high level of expertise and experience in the field of cyber security
- Can be difficult to find and retain skilled ethical hackers who meet your company’s specific needs
Overall, the pros of launching a bug bounty program generally outweigh the cons. If your company is committed to investing the time and resources necessary to run it effectively, then this approach can be a highly effective way to strengthen your cyber security posture and protect your digital assets against potential cyber threats.
How to Launch a Successful Bug Bounty Program
If you decide that launching a bug bounty program is right for your business, there are a number of steps that you should take to ensure its success. These steps include:
1. Get internal support and sign off from internal teams
Launching a bug bounty program will require a significant investment of time and resources, both from your security team and other departments within your company. For this reason, you first need to ensure that all relevant departments are on board and actively supportive of the initiative.
This may include getting sign off from senior executives or even hiring an outside consultant to help with the launch. The last thing that you want to do is to open a program and then find that you don’t have the internal support to rectify bugs or implement fixes quickly.
2. Start a vulnerability disclosure program without any financial rewards
A vulnerability disclosure program is an efficient way for outsiders to report security findings to the security team. By not offering payouts, you will attract fewer participants, however, this method can be used to launch the program on a smaller scale. It allows security teams to become accustomed to receiving input from people outside of their usual group.
It’s crucial to do this first because it gives you an idea of how many complex problems would exist in a full bug bounty program. These include figuring out responses for the disclosures, making an escalation process, and how to respond quickly to fix the reported problems.
3. Determine a platform or method for hosting your program
After dipping your toes in the water with a vulnerability disclosure program, you should be ready to move into full bug bounty mode. At this stage, you will need to decide on a platform or method for hosting your bounty program.
There are a number of different platforms or methods for hosting your bug bounty program. You can either host private programs on your own server or launch via public crowdsourced platforms like HackerOne. You should decide which option is best for your business based on factors that may include cost, features offered by the platform, and the level of security expertise you have internally.
4. Decide on your bounty program’s scope, duration, and rules
Scope refers to the types of websites, applications, or systems that you want to include in your program. You should decide on a scope that balances the need for security with the risk posed by opening up too many vulnerabilities at once.
Your duration should be long enough to give ethical hackers time to find and report bugs while also not being so long as to attract less skilled researchers who may only submit low-priority bugs.
Finally, you should establish rules for permission levels and disclosure timelines, among other guidelines, to ensure that all participants are aware of their responsibilities and requirements when participating in your bounty program.
5. Launch your bug bounty program and market it to attract top ethical hackers
You’ve done all of the preliminary work. You are now ready to launch your bug bounty program. This involves making a formal announcement and reaching out to potential participants through channels like websites, social media, or email lists.
Especially if you’re launching via a crowdsourced platform, it’s crucial that you market your program well so that top ethical hackers learn about it and decide to participate. Additionally, use this opportunity to highlight what makes your business and program unique and why people should choose to engage with you online rather than another company who may be offering greater payouts or incentives.
Post Launch Advice
One of the biggest failures to bug bounty programs comes after the program is launched.
It’s very important that you maintain an ongoing dialogue with participants and continue to support their efforts. This will help ensure the success of your program, attract better talent, and keep your business secure over the long term.
Some tips for maintaining your bug bounty program post launch include:
- Develop a regular schedule of communication with participants. This may involve sending out periodic emails to update them on changes or new developments in the program, hosting webinars or other live events, or creating a dedicated online forum where they can discuss issues and receive support from one another.
- Respond quickly when bugs are reported by participants. This shows that you take the security of your business seriously and should be one of the key factors in attracting top ethical hackers to your program.
- Invest in training and support for your security team or staff members who will be managing the program. This will ensure that they have the knowledge and skills needed to effectively collaborate with participants, set appropriate scope, and resolve issues as quickly as possible.
- Consider rolling out new features or updates to your bug bounty program over time. This may help attract more top hackers and keep things interesting for existing participants over time. Some examples of helpful updates include offering higher payouts for more critical bugs and introducing a rewards system for specific achievements.
In the end, the success of your bug bounty program will depend on many factors including your initial research, launch strategy, and ongoing support. With the right approach, however, you can create a program that helps ensure the security of your business while also attracting top ethical hackers and building a strong community of online participants.