Microsoft waves more security pros into the pool for $100K bounties
Moves step closer to traditional bug bounties by accepting novel techniques found in active attacks that skirt Windows' defenses
Computerworld - Microsoft on Monday expanded its $100,000 bounty program, and will accept reports of in-the-wild attacks that demonstrate new techniques of bypassing Windows' anti-exploit technologies.
"This will be pretty disruptive," said Chris Wysopal, co-founder and CTO of Veracode, a Burlington, Mass. company that develops application security testing and risk management software, talking about the impact on cyber criminals. "This is a pretty big bounty for someone doing [security] incident response."
The expanded program lets front-line security researchers, which Microsoft described as "responders and forensics experts," submit reports of unique attack techniques that they have found in active exploits.
The maximum payment remains $100,000, the bar that Microsoft established in June when it kicked off what it called the "Mitigation Bypass Bounty."
Previously, Microsoft only accepted novel and reliable exploit techniques that researchers and academics had devised in the abstract, and which had not been used by actual hackers. The program aimed to acquire information about such techniques -- which could circumvent Windows 8.1's built-in defenses, like DEP (Data Execution Prevention), ASLR (Address Space Layout Randomization) and SEHOP (Structured Exception Handling Overwrite Protection) -- before attackers used them so Microsoft could pre-empt exploits by beefing up the OS's protection.
Microsoft has awarded only one $100,000 Mitigation Bypass Bounty, which went to James Forshaw, the head of vulnerability research at U.K.-based Context Information Security, last month.
The change, as one security expert said, brings Microsoft closer to traditional bug bounty programs, which pay for each vulnerability. "[This] is very much riding the line of paying for zero-days," said Andrew Storms, director of DevOps at CloudPassage of San Francisco, in an instant message interview yesterday.
Microsoft declined to answer questions about how the changes were different from a per-bug bounty, with a spokesperson instead pointing to a blog post written by Katie Moussouris, a senior security strategist lead at the company, in which Moussouris likened bug bounties to paying to deflect individual arrows while the Microsoft program pays for information about "ways around the shield."
Security professionals disagreed whether Microsoft had crossed the line to a pay-for-bugs model, which the company has repeatedly said it would not do.
"It sure does seem to boil down to a person or organization has gotten their hands on a new attack method and they turn it over to Microsoft for a payout," said Storms. "Although I guess you could say that they are paying for a technique instead of a payload."
While acknowledging that it was "splitting hairs" to deny that the new program was a bug bounty, Wysopal said that "It's only for mitigation bypasses, it's not just for any zero-day bug. They're not paying for a zero-day [vulnerability] in Windows XP, for example."
Moussouris stressed that the bounty program expansion would now draw from a much larger pool of people. "We are going from accepting entries from only a handful of individuals capable of inventing new mitigation bypass techniques on their own, to potentially thousands of individuals or organizations who find attacks in the wild," she wrote.
The single award thus far points to the difficulty in meeting the original program's criteria, and the expansion signals that Microsoft wanted more grist for its mill.
But it's not opening up the program to just any Tom, Dick or Harriet hacker. Only pre-certified organizations will be allowed to submit reports eligible for the $100,000 awards, and then, as Storms pointed out, only after they sign an agreement that will, as in prior contests, require the reporters to not disclose details of the attack technique.
"I think they did that so that one black hat couldn't get paid for stealing from another black hat," said Wysopal, using the term for criminal coders, when asked why Microsoft wanted to pre-qualify those who submitted reports. "They're trying to make sure that only white hat, legitimate incident responders, get the money."
And he applauded the bounty expansion. "This is very smart. This raises the cost of offense because defenders will be on the lookout for mitigation bypass techniques in the zero-days they find, and [they're] incentivized to get that information to Microsoft, which can then close the hole," said Wysopal.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is email@example.com.
- Microsoft plans to patch critical under-attack IE bug next week
- Ballmer regrets not aping Apple sooner
- OS upgrades: Cheap is better than pricey, free is better than cheap
- Update: More top-tier Microsoft execs head for the door
- Microsoft ships Office 2013 SP1 the old-fashioned way
- Microsoft's 'go-low' play puts Windows revenue on the line
- Microsoft: Android Nokia not our call to make
- Gates sells another 20M shares; lead over Ballmer shrinks to nearly nothing
- Hey Microsoft, where's the next Mac Office?
- Microsoft dubs 'confusing' Office Web Apps as Office Online
Read more about Security in Computerworld's Security Topic Center.
- Best iPhone, iPad Business Apps for 2014
- 14 Tech Conventions You Should Attend in 2014
- 10 Desktop Apps to Power Your Windows PC
- How to Add New Job Skills Without Going Back to School
- Slideshow: 7 security mistakes people make with their mobile device
- iOS vs. Android: Which is more secure?
- 11 sure signs you've been hacked
- The 12 PCI DSS 3.0 requirements addressed by Peer 1 Hosting This handy quick reference outlines the 12 PCI DSS 3.0 requirements, who needs to be compliant and how Alert Logic solutions address the...
- Defense Throughout the Vulnerability Life Cycle This whitepaper provides insight into how to leverage threat and log management technologies to protect your IT assets throughout their vulnerability life cycle.
- Mobile Policy Checklist Here's what to consider when putting together a mobile policy designed to support a highly productive workforce.
- Securing BYOD Mobile computing is becoming so ubiquitous that people no longer bat an eye seeing someone working two devices simultaneously. Individuals and organizations are...
- Live Webcast On-demand webinar: "Mobility Mayhem: Balancing BYOD with Enterprise Security" Check out this on-demand webinar to hear Sophos senior security expert John Shier deep dive into how BYOD impacts your enterprise security strategy...
- Live Webcast Endpoint Backup & Restore: Protect Everyone, Everywhere Arek Sokol from the bleeding-edge IT team at Genentech/Roche explains how he leverages cross-platform enterprise endpoint backup in the public cloud as part...
- Streamline Software Asset Management, Compose a software Management Symphony Keeping track of your organization's software is easy with effective software management solutions from CDW. View the videos in our software solutions channel
- Druva inSync: Endpoint Data Protection & Governance CLICK HERE to watch this video about protecting corporate data on laptops and mobile devices, sponsored by Druva. All Security White Papers | Webcasts