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Starting June 26, Microsoft will launch three new rewards programs for researchers to encourage bug finders to report exploitation techniques and defensive solutions. The first program is the Mitigation Bypass Bounty, in which Microsoft has agreed to pay up to $100,000 for exploits targeting the latest version of Windows (Windows 8.1 Preview). The second program -- the "BlueHat Bonus for Defense" -- offers up to $50,000 for defensive ideas that accompany any submission for the first program.
The final program offers up to $11,000 for critical vulnerabilities affecting the Internet Explorer 11 Preview on Windows 8.1. The entry period for this program will be the first 30 days of the IE 11 beta period, which stretches from June 26 to July 26. The other programs will remain ongoing.
"For the first time ever, Microsoft is offering direct cash payouts in exchange for reporting certain types of vulnerabilities and exploitation techniques," blogs Katie Moussouris, senior security strategist at Microsoft's Security Research Center. "We are making this shift in order to learn about these issues earlier and to increase the win-win between Microsoft's customers and the security researcher community."
"Our platform-wide mitigations (DEP, ASLR, and so forth) are part of "the shield" that increases costs to attackers by making it difficult to reliably exploit individual vulnerabilities," she continues, adding that while annual exploit competitions have allow Microsoft and other vendors to learn about new attack techniques, those competitions are not enough.
"We decided that we didn't want to wait for the next competition to learn about more of these new exploitation techniques – we want to know about them before they are used to target our customers," blogs Moussouris. "For Microsoft, learning about mitigation bypasses on our latest platform, or "holes in the shield," helps us better protect against entire classes of attacks and can help us move the state of security in our products by leaps, rather than by small increments that a traditional bug bounty alone would."
At the upcoming Black Hat conference in Las Vegas, Microsoft will invite anyone who wants to participate in the Mitigation Bypass Bounty to do so live during the convention next month.
It is no secret there is a thriving marketplace for zero-day vulnerabilities in popular software. With bugs going for thousands of dollars in the cyberunderground, bounty programs can serve as a way for vendors to lure those who may be tempted to sell them to bad actors, as well as security experts looking to profit from their research legitimately.
"I think the mitigation bypass bounty of $100,000 is enough to incent some people to give their research to Microsoft instead of trying to build zero-days for the black market with the same information," opines Chris Wysopal, CTO of Veracode. "There are many researchers who come from an academic background or are otherwise looking to build a career in info security who don't want to associate with the black market."
"Bug bounties signal to the security community that a vendor respects security researchers work so much they are willing to pay for it," he adds. "The way Microsoft has structured the mitigation bypass bounty means they will be getting research that allows them to improve the entire windows platform which will make even non-Microsoft vendor software more secure."
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