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Google Offers New Bounty Program For Securing Open-Source Software

New patch rewards program aims to help lock down popular open-source code
First there was the bug bounty, and now there's the patch bounty: Google has launched a new program that pays researchers for security fixes to open-source software.

The new experimental program offers rewards from $500 to $3,133.70 for coming up with security improvements to key open-source software projects. It is geared to complement Google's bug bounty program for Google Web applications and Chrome.

Google's program initially will encompass network services OpenSSH, BIND, ISC DHCP; image parsers libjpeg, libjpeg-turbo, libpng, giflib; Chromium and Blink in Chrome; libraries for OpenSSh and zlib; and Linux kernel components, including KVM. Google plans to next include Web servers Apache httpd, lighttpd, ngix; SMTP services Sendmail, Postfix, Exim; and GCC, binutils, and llvm; and OpenVPN.

Industry concerns over security flaws in open-source code have escalated as more applications rely on these components. Michal Zalewski of the Google Security Team says the search engine giant initially considered a bug bounty program for open-source software, but decided to provide financial incentives for better locking down open-source code.

"We all benefit from the amazing volunteer work done by the open-source community. That's why we keep asking ourselves how to take the model pioneered with our Vulnerability Reward Program -- and employ it to improve the security of key third-party software critical to the health of the entire Internet," Zalewski said in a blog post. "We thought about simply kicking off an OSS bug-hunting program, but this approach can easily backfire. In addition to valid reports, bug bounties invite a significant volume of spurious traffic -- enough to completely overwhelm a small community of volunteers. On top of this, fixing a problem often requires more effort than finding it."

So Google went with offering money for improving the security of open-source software "that goes beyond merely fixing a known security bug," he blogged. "Whether you want to switch to a more secure allocator, to add privilege separation, to clean up a bunch of sketchy calls to strcat(), or even just to enable ASLR - we want to help."

To qualify, the patch must past muster with the handlers of the open-source projects. Participants are required to first submit their patches to the open-source project handlers, and work with them to get the submission integrated into their programs. Then, participants can submit the entry to Google's Security Team, who will determine whether the patch is eligible for a bounty and how much it's worth.

Some examples of fixes, according to Google, could be improving privilege separation, hardening memory allocation, cleaning up integer arithmetic, fixing race conditions, and eradicating error issues in design patterns or library calls in the code.

"Reactive patches that merely address a single, previously discovered vulnerability will typically not be eligible for rewards," according to Google's rules for the new program.

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