Researchers praise Facebook for paying bug bounties

'Great start," says Charlie Miller, proponent of 'No Free Bugs' movement

Facebook's move today to follow Google, Mozilla and Hewlett-Packard in offering bounties for bugs got a unanimous thumbs up from security researchers.

A noted vulnerability researcher who has pushed a "No More Free Bugs" concept applauded Facebook's decision.

"It's a great start," said Charlie Miller, a four-time winner at the Pwn2Own hacking contest, and with others, a proponent for researcher rewards. "Moving from paying zero to paying anything is probably the hardest hurdle for companies to get over."

Miller is a principal research consultant for the Denver-based security consulting company Accuvant.

Earlier today, Facebook announced that it will offer a base reward of $500 for each security vulnerability outsiders report via a new portal. Bounties may be higher for significant flaws, but the company has not said what its top-dollar award will be.

Several other bounty programs pay researchers considerably more.

Although HP TippingPoint -- the largest vendor-independent buyer of vulnerabilities -- does not publicly disclose the amounts it pays researchers, others do.

Google, for example, pays up to $3,133 for flaws reported in its Chrome browser and websites and online services. So far this year, Google has laid out over $90,000 to dozens of researchers for scores of vulnerabilities.

Mozilla also pays bounties as high as $3,000 for vulnerabilities in Firefox and several of its online applications, including its Bugzilla bug-tracking database.

Although Facebook's payment rate is significantly less than Google's, Mozilla's or TippingPoint's, the social networking site made a smart decision, said another well-known security researcher.

"The dollar amounts may be smaller than other markets for security research, but bounty programs lead to a better relationship with the security community and improve the security of the service much faster than a similar resource spend in a traditional security audit," argued HD Moore, the chief security officer at Rapid7 and the creator of the open-source Metasploit penetration-testing toolkit.

"Researchers are provided with a sanctioned path to test the security of the service and the provider receives a lot of security analysis for a small cash outlay," Moore added.

Other researchers also supported Facebook's entry into the bugs-for-money territory.

"Taking a proactive stance to avoid possible future exploits seems like money well spent," said Cameron Camp, a researcher at ESET, a San Diego antivirus vendor. "It also sounds like it's a potential recruiting tool with a little bit of a kicker to sweeten it for hackers to stay away from the 'dark side.'"

Mozilla and Google chimed in as well.

"It is great that Facebook is following our lead and launching a security bounty program," a company spokeswoman said in an email reply to a request for comment. "The program has been a real success for us and we're happy to see other vendors adopting similar programs."

Earlier, Google told the IDG News Service -- like Computerworld, operated by IDG -- that its bounty program has also been a boon. "We're very happy with the success of our vulnerability reward program so far ... and [we] have seen a variety of interesting bugs," a Google spokesman said in an email to the news service.

Several prominent companies, however, including major operating system makers Apple and Microsoft, do not monetarily reward researchers.

Microsoft, for instance, has repeatedly said it believes the public recognition it provides is enough. The company's security advisories credit researchers who have submitted bugs in Windows and its other products.

But Miller sees it differently.

"I wish other companies whose products we depend on, like Apple, Microsoft, Cisco, etcetera, were willing to put their wallet where their mouths are, too," said Miller. "No more free bugs!"

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more articles by Gregg Keizer.

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