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iDefense Revamps Bucks for Bugs Contest

Changes aimed at making vulnerability research 'sexy' again, iDefense says

iDefense has revamped its vulnerability contest in an effort to raise the bar for researchers who compete in the cash for zero-day exploits program: it will no longer offer its separate quarterly vulnerability submission challenge, but will instead annually reward the best of the bugs it accepts through its Vulnerability Contributor Program.

“We want to bring 'sexy' back to vulnerability research,” says Rick Howard, intelligence director for iDefense Labs. “Two to three years ago, these kinds of programs were very sexy to the security community, paying hackers to find exploits in common apps… but the focus of what is sexy has changed from finding vulnerabilities to what the malicious code is doing. That’s where the action is.”

So instead of accepting entries for your basic denial-of-service bug like it used to do, iDefense is now looking for exploits that demonstrate real, specific things the bug can do to an application, such as how exploit code could control or alter the Outlook client when it launches, for example, Howard says.

iDefense’s quarterly VCP Challenge was an add-on to its regular Vulnerability Contributor Program, and it ended up being the same more seasoned hackers winning over and over from the VCP program, according to Howard. “And our own contributors complained a bit that 90 days was not enough time to do a” quality exploit, he says. “The [contest] became unmanageable.”

Buying vulnerabilities from researchers has been a controversial practice, and only a few vendors do so today aside from iDefense, including TippingPoint through its Zero Day Initiative and Immunity Inc. WabiSabiLabi offers an online auction site for researchers to sell their vulnerabilities.

Howard says the growing black market for vulnerability research hasn’t had much of an impact on iDefense’s program because it’s a different clientele. “We don’t see them because we don’t pay enough” for them, he says.

iDefense’s new annual contest will reward what it considers the most significant contributions it has received over the year. The grand prize is $50,000, followed by a $25,000 first prize; a $10,000 second prize; and a $5,000 third prize. Howard says the company is investing about the same amount of cash in the new annual prize that it did with the quarterly ones.

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