Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Application Security

4/10/2019
10:30 AM
Matt Honea
Matt Honea
Commentary
Connect Directly
Twitter
LinkedIn
RSS
E-Mail vvv
100%
0%

Safe Harbor Programs: Ensuring the Bounty Isn't on White Hat Hackers' Heads

As crowdsourced security-testing surges in popularity, companies need to implement safe harbor provisions to protect good-faith hackers -- and themselves.

Bug bounty programs are surging in popularity, as more companies — both public and private — use freelance security researchers to spot vulnerabilities in their systems and help protect valuable customer data. According to the 2018 HackerOne report, new bug bounty programs have grown a staggering 54% in the last year alone, and valid reports hit an all-time high of 80%.

However, despite the growth of these programs, disclosure standards and practices vary widely from company to company. This severe lack of standardization exposes well-intentioned hackers to possible legal liability — and can leave companies open to costly avoidable risk, as the 2017 Equifax breach showed.

To ensure the disclosure industry continues to evolve and thrive, companies need to offer protection for good-faith hackers by standardizing their reporting and policies, using easy-to-understand language. By making the rules of the road clear to everyone, the industry can chart a better, more secure path forward.

Closing Reporting Gaps
Having companies pay hackers seems counter-intuitive, but the ecosystem is symbiotic — and, overall, it works. With the help of hackers, companies are able to subject their exposed systems to continuous testing from multiple angles at once, while rewarding freelancers who spot key vulnerabilities.

Ensuring the system moves toward closing reporting gaps requires companies to take a few key actions, including establishing a vulnerability disclosure program (VDP). A VDP provides a secure channel that hackers can use to report bugs quickly, along with an internal team of company experts to mitigate and triage problems.

As an extension of a VDP, safe harbor policies provide specific language and guidelines around bug bounty programs. Several large companies, such as Dropbox and General Motors, have these policies, but most companies don't. In fact, according to HackerOne, 93% of Forbes' list of Global 2000 companies don't have any way for researchers to report security issues. As a result, hackers can't be confident they're working directly with companies without fear of civil or criminal legal reprisal, leaving only hackers that are driven solely of good faith to report any vulnerabilities. 

While hackers may be vulnerable in the absence of safe harbor policies, today's booming bug bounty economy still offers plenty of opportunities. After all, time is money — and it's a seller's market. For companies without the proper protection, freelance security researchers lack incentive to report bugs when given the choice to work for companies that publicly offer bounties and protection. Faced with such ambiguity, some might fail to report vulnerabilities at all — or worse, could choose to post the information to the Dark Web, where there's a thriving market for data and remote access, or publicly expose the flaw to embarrass a company, allowing other hackers to exploit the information, which is what happened to Microsoft in 2017.

Balancing Risks and Rewards
For companies, safe harbor is a trade-off that allows hackers to work more openly within their systems in exchange for protections. Currently, safe harbor is in a "read between the lines" state. While many companies won't actually pursue legal action against hackers who report a bug in good-faith, other companies also don't want to give up their right to prosecute if things go sideways.

It's critical for organizations to formalize their safe harbor protections by writing clear policies that offer a broad range of protections for hackers. It's simply good business since the cost of a bug bounty is significantly less than what a data breach costs to remediate. The average bounty payout for a critical vulnerability is US $2,041, according to HackerOne. The average data breach cost, according to Ponemon Institute, is a hefty US $3.62 million.

Existing programs like Disclose.io are helping to standardize safe harbor programs by creating universal language within existing bug bounty programs, so that rules for hackers don't change from program to program. However, safe harbor provisions do come with risks, both for the company and the hacker, meaning that steps need to be taken in order for safe harbor to become more widely adopted.

Adding common and easily accepted legal language to manage disclosure programs is the easiest and best way companies can boost adoption. By using simple wording that's publicly displayed, companies can state that they will not pursue legal action against hackers within a defined security scope.

Well-known software companies like Dropbox and Mozilla — which have significant exposure, developed vulnerability programs, and high levels of responsiveness — are leading the way in safe harbor programs. And the disclosure industry as a whole will benefit.

Related Content:

 

 

 Join Dark Reading LIVE for two cybersecurity summits at Interop 2019. Learn from the industry's most knowledgeable IT security experts. Check out the Interop agenda here.

As Senior Director of Cybersecurity at Guidewire Software, Matthew Honea is responsible for the company's corporate security strategy and implementation. View Full Bio
 

Recommended Reading:

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
News
Inside the Ransomware Campaigns Targeting Exchange Servers
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  4/2/2021
Commentary
Beyond MITRE ATT&CK: The Case for a New Cyber Kill Chain
Rik Turner, Principal Analyst, Infrastructure Solutions, Omdia,  3/30/2021
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
2021 Top Enterprise IT Trends
We've identified the key trends that are poised to impact the IT landscape in 2021. Find out why they're important and how they will affect you today!
Flash Poll
How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
Recent breaches of third-party apps are driving many organizations to think harder about the security of their off-the-shelf software as they continue to move left in secure software development practices.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2021-22879
PUBLISHED: 2021-04-14
Nextcloud Desktop Client prior to 3.1.3 is vulnerable to resource injection by way of missing validation of URLs, allowing a malicious server to execute remote commands. User interaction is needed for exploitation.
CVE-2021-27989
PUBLISHED: 2021-04-14
Appspace 6.2.4 is vulnerable to stored cross-site scripting (XSS) in multiple parameters within /medianet/sgcontentset.aspx.
CVE-2021-25316
PUBLISHED: 2021-04-14
A Insecure Temporary File vulnerability in s390-tools of SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 12-SP5, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 15-SP2 allows local attackers to prevent VM live migrations This issue affects: SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 12-SP5 s390-tools versions prior to 2.1.0-18.29.1. SUSE Linux Enterp...
CVE-2021-28797
PUBLISHED: 2021-04-14
A stack-based buffer overflow vulnerability has been reported to affect QNAP NAS devices running Surveillance Station. If exploited, this vulnerability allows attackers to execute arbitrary code. QNAP have already fixed this vulnerability in the following versions: Surveillance Station 5.1.5.4.3 (an...
CVE-2020-36323
PUBLISHED: 2021-04-14
In the standard library in Rust before 1.50.3, there is an optimization for joining strings that can cause uninitialized bytes to be exposed (or the program to crash) if the borrowed string changes after its length is checked.