Risk
7/16/2010
06:10 PM
George V. Hulme
George V. Hulme
Commentary
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Mozilla Raises Security Bug Payout

If you are a bug finder, finding security flaws in Mozilla software products, such as the Firefox web browser, just became much more profitable after the foundation raised its bug bounty from $500 to $3,000. But will this move help improve your security?

If you are a bug finder, finding security flaws in Mozilla software products, such as the Firefox web browser, just became much more profitable after the foundation raised its bug bounty from $500 to $3,000. But will this move help improve your security?Perhaps, but only a little. Sure, $3,000 sounds like a substantial sum for a security researcher. And no doubt it will attract a hefty amount of bug disclosures to Mozilla. Mozilla is also expanding software eligible for the bounty:

For new bugs reported starting July 1st, 2010 UTC we are changing the bounty payment to $3,000 US per eligible security bug. A lot has changed in the 6 years since the Mozilla program was announced, and we believe that one of the best way to keep our users safe is to make it economically sustainable for security researchers to do the right thing when disclosing information.

We have also clarified the products covered under the bounty to better reflect the threats we are focused upon. We still include Firefox and Thunderbird obviously, but we also added Firefox Mobile and any Mozilla services that those products rely upon for safe operation. These are products we have traditionally paid bounties for in a discretionary basis anyway, but we wanted to make that explicit. Release and beta versions of those products are eligible. Mozilla Suite bugs however is no longer eligible, as it is not an officially released nor supported Mozilla product.

Now, a ton of labor can go into bug discovery, and a $3,000 payout doesn't guarantee much profit.

And the bounty certainly won't challenge the zero-day black market. Some experts peg the value of zero days to the underground market in the tens of thousands. In this quote from Local Tech Wire the security researcher is talking about the flaw within Internet Explorer that was used against Google late last year:

Pedram Amini, manager of the Zero Day Initiative at the security firm TippingPoint, estimated that the IE flaw could have fetched as much as $40,000. He said even more valuable zero-day flaws are ones that can infect computers without any action on the users' part.

So while this is an improvement, I doubt software makers will ever be able to outbid the underground market for zero day vulnerabilities. After all, criminal attackers can use these flaws as a way to turn a sizeable profit (for awhile). Software makers merely get an incrementally more secure application.

What's needed is a market for newfound software vulnerabilities that will make it possible for the better software security researchers to make a decent living. However, for that to happen, would require more - and larger - software vendors to provide payments for software bugs. Currently, Google provides an ad hoc payment to researchers, but nothing formal that security researchers can build a business around.

And, best of my knowledge, large enterprise software companies, such as Microsoft and Oracle don't offer any form of payment.

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