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Risk

7/26/2006
04:25 AM
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Profit Motives

This business of paying for software bugs has plenty of pros and cons and won't necessarily improve security

12:25 PM -- There's something unsettling about security vendors paying researchers for the software bugs they discover.

It's a delicate dance -- keeping your researcher friends close and your enemies closer. Security software vendors are putting up thousands of dollars, which may come in handy for a hungry grad student, but could also tempt a hungry hacker into cooking up mischief, or hardcore criminals (think identity theft, corporate espionage, or worse) into outbidding the vendors, with five figures instead of "just" four. (See Bucks for Bugs.)

Are security vendors truly keeping software safer by soliciting business with bug writers? Or is this practice merely inviting trouble?

There's no way to prove the bugs for money system actually creates market demand, but you have to wonder. Certainly the idea of intercepting a potential bug before it propagates into the wild makes sense, but does it have to involve cash? How much of this bucks-for-bugs trade is altruistic on the part of security vendors that pay up? Aren't they also trying to gain a financial edge as well, being the first to find and patch a new Windows bug, for example?

And even if all security vendors paid for bugs -- only a handful do today -- there's no way to guarantee it would stop software bugs from being created and disseminated, even with promises of money and gainful employment.

Okay, so maybe this is a little nostalgia for what seems to be increasingly becoming the "old school" Internet days of open research for all, but what's wrong with continuing to encourage researchers to place their findings in the public domain? Many still do this, and it gives all security vendors a shot at finding fixes. It may not halt the practice of selling bugs to bad guys, but it may make it less tempting to sell out.

— Kelly Jackson Higgins, Senior Editor, Dark Reading

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