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Vulnerabilities / Threats

6/13/2013
05:27 PM
Mike Rothman
Mike Rothman
Commentary
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0-Day The (Bug) Bounty Hunter

Companies increasingly offer bug bounties to help find vulnerabilities and threats. This is an opportunity for those looking to get into security

Whenever I go to a conference, inevitably I'll meet a college student or a younger kid interested in security. They want to know how I got to -- well, wherever I am -- and how they can sit in coffee shops all day. Once I get over the shock that I had already graduated from college before these kids were born, they usually want some guidance on how to get started in the business.

For quite a while, I told them to volunteer their time configuring networks and protecting data for organizations that didn't have internal resources to do so. You know, religious organizations, charities, youth groups, whatever. Just get some experience and use that to parlay into a corporate internship -- and eventually a job. I also told them about the need to learn some coding kung fu, since application security was going to be a big problem for many years to come. Even a blind squirrel finds the nut every so often.

As opposed to taking Java courses (which seemed like a good idea at the time), there's now another alternative. These kids can become bug bounty hunters. Don't turn up your nose yet. Hear me out a bit. Kids with an interest in security today have all sorts of ways to learn about security, but a bunch can land them in hot water. They can play around with DDoS tools, social-engineer their way into the big evil company, or break into their high school's network with Metasploit. And many do exactly that. Not because they are bad kids, but because they like to hack things, and the tools are out there and easy to use.

Consider a more productive approach. With Google recently increasing the bounty to find bugs and other companies taking a similar approach, those meddling kids can turn their talents to finding defects in these software products. Not only can the kids make a shekel or two, but they'll end up with invaluable experience and a few notches in their belts when they find bugs. And they will find stuff -- it's software, after all. This practical experience looks good to recruiters and other folks looking to find talented candidates for the tons of open security jobs.

To be clear, finding bugs is more about offense than defense. But it's a start, and once someone can successfully break things, they'll have a good perspective on how to protect it. If that's the direction they want to go in. With the security skills shortage in the industry, there will be plenty of opportunities for those who want to stay on an offensive track. And I don't mean those less-than-hygienic folks we all know and love.

It turns out these bug bounty programs are the rare win-win for both parties. The companies get very cheap Q/A help. Even if they pay $10K for a juicy bug, the typical qualified tester costs 12 to 15 times that (fully loaded) per year. That person would need to find a lot of juicy bugs to justify hiring them full time. Even better, the company gets exclusive access to the defect, presumably to fix it before the threat becomes a weaponized exploit.

Now, of course, if the enterprising prodigy realizes governments will pay really big money for unique bugs, they can skip a few steps in their career progression. But the NSA already knows about those bugs, right?

Mike Rothman is President of Securosis and author of The Pragmatic CSO. Check him out on the Twitterz at @securityincite.

Mike's bold perspectives and irreverent style are invaluable as companies determine effective strategies to grapple with the dynamic security threatscape. Mike specializes in the sexy aspects of security, like protecting networks and endpoints, security management, and ... View Full Bio

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