Bug bounty programmes: taking your application security to the next level

by Antonios Marnelis - Cyber Security Consultant
| minute read

Do you consider bug bounty programmes the actual keystone of your application security testing strategy? Or merely the icing on the proverbial cake? The undeniable fact is that these programmes have become somewhat indispensable in today's security landscape. The reason is clear and simple: bug bounty programmes help us to identify security weaknesses that may have gone unidentified through all the other previous stages of our security testing.

Major challenges in software development sometimes tend to make stakeholders neglect the security aspects of the software. This tendency allows certain security issues to go unidentified, often long after an application has been deployed in the production systems.

Fortunately, nowadays a growing number of companies and organisations aim to safeguard their applications by performing various security testing activities during the distinct phases of software development (as shown in the illustration below). In doing so, they ensure that applications are not affected by serious security weaknesses that could potentially compromise their security.

Modern approach to application security testing

As you can see in the illustration below, the most common application security testing activities a company or organisation should have integrated into its Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) are:

-        Static Application Security Testing (SAST)

-        Software Composition Analysis (SCA)

-        Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST)

-        Penetration Testing (Pen Test)

Each of those security testing activities has specific strengths and weaknesses, requiring you to perform them at specific times during the project's development lifecycle. Also, all of them should be considered irreplaceable. Not a single activity is to be skipped.

Security Testing

The art of the security deal

Unfortunately, performing these testing activities at regular intervals does not guarantee the ultimate security for your applications. Which is where bug bounty programmes come in to supplement this key sequence of testing activities, helping you to get your application security to the next level.

A bug bounty programme is basically a deal or (financial) incentive offered by a company or organisation to recognize and compensate individuals, usually hackers, for reporting bugs, especially those pertaining to security exploits and vulnerabilities. These programmes allow companies and organisations to discover and resolve bugs before the public is aware of them, preventing incidents of widespread abuse.

Bug bounty platforms

Most of the bug bounty programmes are hosted through bug bounty platforms. As you can see from this list, there are several platforms available worldwide, some of them European. Those platforms have thousands of security researchers registered, who are constantly working to identify security weaknesses on the different bug bounty programmes.

Interested companies and organisations are required to create a bug bounty programme through one of those platforms. This process entails that they define a clear scope which includes all the resources as well as the types of security weaknesses they want the security researchers to test. It is also up to the company or organisation to decide whether the programme will be accessible to all bug hunters or only to those who qualify for it based on predefined criteria such as KYC checks (Know Your Customer), country of origin and/or researcher’s ranking.

After having a bug bounty programme published, you should expect a sizable number of reports to be disclosed regularly by interested security researchers. At that point, your security team should start analysing, triaging the reports, and escalate potential weaknesses to stakeholders for resolution. It goes without saying that our own security experts can also assist your team in that analysis, just as they can support you in all other aspects of security testing. So don’t hesitate to call on us for your support!

Check out my next post to learn about the benefits and challenges of working with bug bounty programmes.