By Gregg Keizer
Feb 17, 2006
A security company known for paying bounties on bugs will launch a new
program next week that will pay researchers $10,000 for finding
Windows vulnerabilities that Microsoft classifies as "Critical."
The new reward is an addition to iDefense's controversial
Vulnerability Contributor Program (VCP), which launched in 2005. "We
want to get people excited [about VCP]," said Adam Greene, the
assistant director of iDefense Labs. "And we want to encourage
researchers to focus on things important to our clients."
Windows vulnerabilities was an obvious pick, added Greene, because "so
many of our clients use [Windows]."
The $10,000 research reward comes with a few strings. The offer ends
March 31, said Greene, and it must be submitted exclusively to
iDefense. If Microsoft eventually classifies it as a "Critical" fix --
the Redmond, Wash.-based developer uses a four-step rating system to
rank patches, with Critical at the top of the chart -- iDefense will
pay out the $10,000, which is above and beyond its usual VCP payouts.
Although iDefense doesn't publish it usual reward rate structure, it
paid out nearly $40,000 in its first three months.
Each quarter, iDefense will change the rules of the $10,000 bonus. "We
haven't settled on next quarter's," admitted Greene. "But rather than
a specific vendor, we're talking about targeting a certain class of
vulnerability or class of product. Maybe Web browsers or e-mail."
"It's important to change it up a bit to keep people interested," he
A few other companies trade cash for vulnerabilities. TippingPoint,
part of 3Com, has a similar program, dubbed Zero Day Initiative, while
Mozilla pays $500 for bugs in its open-source software.
But the practice is criticized by some security research rivals.
"It blurs the lines between gray and white and black hats," said Mike
Puterbaugh, vice president of marketing for eEye Digital Security. "It
creates a market for vulnerabilities, and almost legitimizes the black
Not surprisingly, iDefense's Greene disagreed. "We don't deal with any
groups [of researchers] known to have anything to do with illegal
activity. Interestingly enough, a lot of these people aren't that
interested in the money, but are people who don't want to deal with
the vendors, which have ignored them in the past."
And paying for bugs may get some dangerous vulnerabilities "off the
street," so to speak, Greene said. "You always have to assume that a
given vulnerability is in the hands of more than one person," he said,
noting that a handful of the bugs iDefense paid for in 2005 were used
to actively exploit software after the Reston, Va.-based company
received a heads-up from a bounty hunter.
iDefense uses the bounties to provide advance notice to clients on
developing threats. "In one case last year, a vulnerability [in the
VCP program] gave our customers 60 days of advance warning before it
was made public," said Greene.
eEye Digital Security, well known for discovering vulnerabilities in
Microsoft and Apple software, gets to the same result -- early warning
for customers -- but relies instead on its own internal research team.
"We take a lot of pride in our primary research," said eEye's
Puterbaugh, who claimed that internal research led to protections
against the recent Windows Media Player vulnerability for customers as
far back as June 2004.
"iDefense may have the best intentions, but paying for vulnerabilities
is definitely a slippery slope," Puterbaugh concluded.
Copyright =A9 2005 CMP Media LLC
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