Here’s how bug bounties improve security

3 min read
Lexie

Hi, I'm Lexie! I write about information security, Bitcoin, and privacy.

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Software could be the most complex tool created by humans. While it might still be possible for a single individual to understand all the functioning parts of a car or telephone, it’s unlikely any one human could fully grasp all concepts that are required to make software work.

Software might include endless concepts, such as cryptography, the physics behind wireless transmissions, and the functionality of computer chips and storage disks. In short, it’s what makes everything work.

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Due to its incomprehensible complexity, all software may contain bugs. Most bugs are benign and go unnoticed by the users and administrators, but some are a nuisance and can cause a program to exhibit unexpected behavior or crash the app.

Rare bugs can lead to dramatic side effects and may unintentionally introduce security vulnerabilities. These vulnerabilities can fundamentally alter the security and privacy promises of a product. At worst, they give access to data and information that they are not supposed to have or generate data that it is not supposed to exist.

Limit potential vulnerabilities

There are multiple ways to limit the existence of such vulnerabilities.

1. Simplification of processes

The more simple the processes, the easier it is to understand the product as a whole. To reduce the number of potential vulnerabilities, it helps to keep structures simple and easy to understand.

2. Best practices and a solid understanding of the technology

Each programming language and platform has its own quirks. Vulnerabilities are introduced through these peculiarities when developers don’t fully understand the functionalities of the tools they are using.

3. Internal and external audits of the code

Sometimes a new pair of eyes can spot things others can’t. With internal and external audits, experts can look over software code to ensure there are no bugs.

An essential part of software testing is to look at every component, not just at the finished product. Each API point and function needs to be tested individually to confirm that integers really are integers, and that input is hashed when it’s supposed to be.

4. Bug bounties

Even when taking the precautions explained above, bugs nonetheless can make it to a finished product and into the hands of the users. A bug bounty is often the final line of defense against issues that potentially degrade the user experience or lead to vulnerabilities that can harm the user.

A good bug bounty pays independent researchers for bugs and vulnerabilities they uncover. Often the kinds of vulnerabilities are ranked and assigned unique price tags. The higher the price, the larger the incentive for hackers to find problems.

Paying fair compensation to bug hunters ensures that vulnerabilities don’t end up for sale on the darknet. Instead, developers are quickly made aware of them and plug the holes.

Bug bounties have strict rules that define where a hacker can go poking around, and which areas are taboo. They also define the terms of howvulnerabilities are disclosed and how much time a company allows itself to fix the issue before it is released to the public.

Bug Bounties will recognize those that contribute. As some countries may have draconian anti-hacking laws prohibiting even minor white-hat hacking, companies undertaking a bug bounty program often promise ‘Safe Harbour’ such as those published by disclose.io.

Bug bounties make users safer

Software doesn’t become good software solely through a bug bounty program. But good software that isn’t overly complicated, follows best practices, and is regularly audited can become great software through the existence of a bug bounty program.

The bug bounty program gives a financial incentive to those interested in finding bugs, while also making sure discovered vulnerabilities don’t end up on the darknet marketplaces.

Lexie is the blog's resident tech expert and gets excited about empowerment through technology, space travel, and pancakes with blueberries.