How to implement a bug bounty program

Cybersecurity has become an increasingly trending topic for anyone in the technology space. With millions of attacks happening every day, people have started focusing on security more than ever before. The development, QA, and internal security teams do their best to secure their products. But it’s hard to catch everything internally, and there’s no harm in getting another opinion.

The most common approach organizations use to find vulnerabilities in their applications in this age is bug bounty hunting. So, in this post, I’ll be talking about what bug bounty hunting is, why you need it, and how to go about implementing it.

What is bug bounty hunting?

Recently, techies have shown a lot of interest and dedication in the field of ethical hacking. They build amazing skills around finding loopholes and security weaknesses in a system. All these tech enthusiasts come together to make the world a secure place by contributing to bug bounty hunting programs. So what’s a bug bounty hunting program?

A bug bounty hunting program is an event where organizations make their products available to ethical hackers, aka bug bounty hunters. These bug bounty hunters go through the applications and run tools and scripts with the purpose of finding security issues in the applications. When any security issue or vulnerability is found, the hunters report them to the organizations. Then the organizations fix these issues to make their applications more secure.

Now that you know what bug bounty hunting is, let me tell you why you need it.

Why do you need bug bounty hunting?

The main advantage of bug bounty hunting programs is that you don’t restrict security testing to your internal team. You let expert hackers all around the world find vulnerabilities in your application. This helps you improve the security of your application because you get an outsider’s perspective on hacking your application.

Cybersecurity includes two parts: one is the offensive part and the other is the defensive part. Bug bounty hunting helps you understand how a hacker or an offensive cybersecurity expert would look at your application and find weaknesses in it.

Bug bounty hunting programs are also less expensive than hiring full-time security experts. Also, were you to hire someone, you’d have to invest your resources in the hiring process and finding the right person for the job. This doesn’t mean that the bug bounty hunting event is free. You’ll have to give out rewards when a hacker finds vulnerabilities and reports them. But you do get to decide the reward.

When bug bounty hunting is cheaper, should you use it for your application just after development? No, you shouldn’t. You wouldn’t want your application to be vulnerable to a simple SQL injection attack. You also wouldn’t want to pay out to someone just for them to find a silly blunder in your security. Now the question is, when is your application ready to get into bug bounty hunting? Let’s have a look at that.

When do you implement bug bounty hunting?

After you develop your application, you have to get the initial checks done by the developers and the QA team. If you have an internal security or ethical hacking team, get them to test the application. Leverage your Application Security Testing tools to uncover vulnerabilities you’ve missed. Once you’ve used all the possible resources in your organization to identify and fix security issues, that’s when your application is ready for bug bounty hunting.

When your application is out for bug hunting, a lot of hackers have access to it. These include ethical hackers as well as malicious hackers, and it’s difficult to identify ethical from malicious hackers. If a malicious hacker finds a vulnerability in your application, they might misuse it. And that’s why you take care of security internally as best as you can before you put the app out for bug bounty hunting. It’s also why it’s a good idea to have runtime security in production to tell you when a vulnerability is triggered, both so you can potentially identify a vulnerability you had overlooked and to block an attack from succeeding.

Now let’s move to the main part of this post.

How do you implement bug bounty hunting?

Implementing bug bounty hunting is not as easy as just uploading your application to a bug bounty hunting platform. There are many things that you have to consider before implementing bug bounty hunting. So let’s explore what you should cover to implement a bug bounty hunting program.

The first thing you have to do is choose a platform for the bug bounty hunting program.

Choosing a bug bounty hunting platform

If you think you’d require bug bounty hunting regularly for your organization, you can build a platform on your own. But if you require bug bounty hunting just as a one-time thing, then you can use existing bug bounty hunting platforms.

There are many bug bounty hunting platforms available that have a great base of ethical hackers. Some of the most popular bug bounty hunting platforms are hackerone and bugcrowd.

The advantage of using existing bug bounty hunting platforms is that a lot of ethical hackers are already aware of these platforms. So uploading your application to these bug bounty hunting platforms would help the application reach a lot of security experts.

Starting your bug bounty hunting program

After choosing the right platform for bug bounty hunting, you have to clearly define the bug bounty hunting event. You have to mention the scope of the application that the security experts have to check for vulnerabilities. And also mention the parts of your application that are out of scope.

Bug bounty hunting is a platform where there’s transparency between the organization and ethical hackers. You have to clearly mention the rewards that’ll be given for reporting different levels of vulnerabilities. Mentioning the rewards will attract more security experts to your program.

In some cases, when your application is dealing with sensitive information, you might not want outsiders to have a look at it. If this sensitive information is stored in a database, a better method would be to create a clone of this database and fill it with dummy values. This shouldn’t affect the process of finding vulnerabilities, but it will help in keeping your data confidential.

Once you clearly define the bug bounty event, hackers will try to find vulnerabilities in your system, and if they find any, they’ll report them. When a vulnerability is reported, it’s important for the hackers to mention the kind of vulnerability along with the steps to exploit it and the proof of exploitation. And after a vulnerability is reported in the right format, you can give out rewards based on the criticality of the vulnerability.

Fixing the bugs

After vulnerabilities are reported, you need a team to fix these bugs. This internal security team will verify the reports submitted by the hackers and then prioritize and fix the vulnerabilities. The internal security team can also be responsible for deciding the criticality of a vulnerability, which would, in turn, decide the reward.

You should also have a dashboard where you show the list of vulnerabilities submitted and the status of their fix. This will help ethical hackers decide which part of the application to focus on next.

Conclusion

Bug bounty hunting is a great way to make sure that the security of your application is at its best. Bug bounty hunting should be implemented by all organizations, especially those that run online businesses. If you’re planning on creating a bug bounty hunting event, make sure you take care of all the fundamentals, such as defining the scope, defining the price range, and making sure you’ve taken the appropriate steps to uplevel your security internally as best as you’re able.

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This post was written by Omkar Hiremath. Omkar uses his BE in computer science to share theoretical and demo-based learning on various areas of technology, like ethical hacking, Python, blockchain, and Hadoop.

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