What is Bug Bounty program? Rewards and Opportunities

This article talks about bug bounty or grey hat hacking, it explains what is it, how one can become a grey hat hacker, skills needed and educational resources out there and what are the rewards and opportunities avaialble

For last two weeks, I briefly discussed about what is hacking, different types of hackers, how to become a white hat(ethical) hacker and salary and opportunities available to a ethical hacker. This week I will talk about grey hat hacker or bug bounters, what they are, benefits, what they do, how one can become a grey hat hacker, skills needed and opportunities.

Who is a Grey Hat Hacker or Bug Bounty Hunter? What do they do?

A grey hat hacker is an individual who engages in hacking activities without explicit owner’s permission but with non-malicious intent. These individuals aim to identify and expose vulnerabilities in computer systems or networks to help organizations improve their security. Grey hat hackers operate in a morally ambiguous area, often believing their actions serve a greater cybersecurity purpose. Other intentions may include to show off their skills and gain publicity or free lance and earn money by claiming rewards for their effort from companies for informing them about the vulnerabilities in their product or software.

First bug bounty program was initiated by Netscape in 1995 to encourage an extensive, open review of their new product Netscape Navigator 2.0. Many companies now including Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yatra, Swiggy and others use bug bounty programs to encourage gray hat hackers to report their findings and claim a bounty(reward based on the quantum of vulnerability exposed) to avoid the broader risk of having the hacker exploit the vulnerability for their own gain. It is beneficial for a company to have such bug bounty programs as regardless of how good their testing program is they may not be able to find all vulnerabilities in their ever growing complex and open source products, so grey hat hackers working freelance can help them in identifying vulnerabilities before cyber criminals exploit them for a reward.

How to become a Grey Hat hacker? Skills needed and Educational resources out there

There are no qualifications or certifications needs for one to become a grey hat hacker or a bug bounty hunter, but knowledge of programming & scripting languages like JavaScript, PHP, Python etc, familiarity with common network attacks, countermeasures used, security technologies like vulnerability scanners, penetration testing frameworks, debuggers, and reverse engineering tools help. Apart from these technical skills, they need to be able to communicate effectively with security teams about their findings in a clear concise way, ability to learn new technologies quickly and adapt to new challenges. There are many free and paid online and offline courses one can use to master the skills needed, being a member of bug bounty online forums(bugbountyforum, openbugbounty, hackforums etc) and websites(like bugcrowd, hackerone, bugbase etc) help in getting information on new bug bounty notifications released by various companies.

Rewards and Opportunities available for a Grey Hat hacker :-

The global bug bounty platforms market size was USD 1.19 Billion in 2023 and is likely to reach USD 4.63 Billion by 2032, expanding at a CAGR of 16.3%. Bounty programs attract a wide range of hackers with varying skill sets and expertise giving businesses an advantage over tests that may use less experienced security teams to identify vulnerabilities. Bounties or rewards are distributed by companies depending on the severity of the reported vulnerability. As per bugcrowd website, there are huge earning opportunities for bug bounty hunters ranging from 50 to 3 million USD per bug found based on the quantum and importance of vulnerability discovered and the company involved. Google’s bug bounty program offers rewards ranging from 100 to 31,337 USD for every vulnerability found. Google paid out USD10 million in bug bounties to security researchers in 2023. Google doled out the money to more than 600 security researchers across 68 countries who found vulnerabilities in its various products and services. So there are lot of opportunities and rewards available for a freelancing grey hat hacker or a bug bounty hunter.

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