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Google Offers Hackers Bucks For Chrome Bugs

New vulnerability disclosure incentive program pays a minimum $500 per critical bug
Google is now offering hackers money for discovering vulnerabilities in its Chrome browser -- a practice already in place at Mozilla.

The experimental incentive program is meant to entice researchers outside of the Chromium project to provide security feedback for the browser. Google says it will pay $500 for an eligible bug discovery and $1,337 for an especially severe or clever vulnerability; a single bug could be considered as multiple vulnerabilities.

"The more people involved in scrutinizing Chromium's code and behavior, the more secure our millions of users will be," said Chris Evans, Google Chrome Security, in a blog post today announcing the new program.

Google credited Mozilla for the idea of offering rewards for vulnerability finds in its software.

Chrome security has been on the front burner for Google this week. The search engine giant on Monday issued an update to Chrome that included security fixes and new features, including stronger transport security and a cross-site scripting (XSS) protection feature.

But the practice of offering bug bounties traditionally has been controversial, with opponents saying it sends the wrong message and supporters saying researchers should receive compensation for their efforts in helping vendors pinpoint holes. Companies such as TippingPoint's ZDI and iDefense have paid outside researchers for their finds for some time.

But some experts argue it can backfire because the black market pays more for vulnerability discoveries.

"Acknowledging there's a commercial market for flaws is also acknowledging that you're leaving open the possibility that someone is going to make a lot more money in the dark markets," says Joshua Corman, research director for the enterprise security practice at The 451 Group. "The idea is that you want to encourage researchers to proactively beat up your software so you can fix it before it's exploited by the bad guys. That's a great idea. But the wrinkle is that you're planting a seed that otherwise might not have been there, that, 'I might make money on this.'"

And these bug incentive programs don't prevent zero-day vulnerability discoveries from nonparticipants, he says.

Google says bugs just in Chrome or in the overall Chromium open-source project are eligible for the incentive program, but not vulnerabilities in third-party plug-ins.

"We encourage responsible disclosure. Note that we believe responsible disclosure is a two-way street; it's our job to fix serious bugs within a reasonable time frame," Evans said.

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