SecOpsJan Kahmen8 min read

Bug Bounty Hunting: Increase Safety and Attract Skilled Workers

As part of bug bounty programs, external hackers try to detect vulnerabilities and security holes in companies.


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Bug bounty programs move organizations away from traditional security audits to comprehensive security approaches. This approach increases the probability of detecting serious vulnerabilities. Additional pentests, well thought-out security mechanisms and an attractive reward (the bug bounty) thus increase the security of sensitive company data.

Discovering Software Errors: Often a Challenge

Discovering a software error in IT is often a lengthy undertaking. Bugs are hidden in every system, whether purchased or self-programmed. Errors in frameworks or unused server services increase the risk of falling victim to a cyber attack. However, together with a bug bounty hunter, or several "ethical hackers" at once, this undertaking is feasible.
The best way to legally track down a bug in IT is through pentests for web applications. Here, IT security professionals test existing software systems for existing vulnerabilities. However, there are certain general conditions that must be adhered to. Similarly, pentests for mobile applications are also used time and again to identify security vulnerabilities.
It is not unusual for an error to go unnoticed in everyday business. Modern applications in particular link numerous frameworks and external resources with each other. It is therefore not always obvious at which point problems could occur. Even professional and experienced developers find it impossible to program software that is 100 percent secure. This makes bug bounty programs an interesting approach for companies. Because instead of relying on the skills of individual employees, they harness swarm intelligence.

Bug Bounty Hunting: What does a Bug Bounty Hunter do?

In bug bounty programs, professional hackers try to find vulnerabilities and security holes in companies. While hackers are generally equated with cybercriminals, these are so-called ethical hackers. Instead of exploiting the vulnerabilities, they forward their findings to the affected companies. The companies can then target these security holes for closure.
In return, the bug bounty hunters receive a bonus. The amount of the reward depends on the company and the security precautions it has taken to date. Other important criteria for the amount of the reward are the size and relevance of the security vulnerabilities discovered. Nevertheless, the reward is usually high enough to motivate enough bug bounty hunters to participate in the program.
Bug bounty hunters are not loners, but are part of the crowdsourcing model. This approach offers companies a decisive advantage: experts from different areas check the software for errors and leaks. Ideally, this allows problems to be fixed before cybercriminals can strike.

Pentests vs. Bug Bounty Hunting

Bug bounty programs differ significantly from classic pentests. However, the two approaches are not mutually exclusive. Ideally, companies should employ both methods to increase their IT security. In principle, therefore, the two approaches can be regarded as complementary:

  • Penetration testing: On-demand penetration testing always follows a previously defined framework. It involves a targeted attack on an existing system according to predefined test procedures. Additionally, the test takes place at a predefined time. While countless hackers participate in the bug bounty, a small team of security experts performs the pentest.
  • Bug bounty: In the bug bounty program, companies harness the swarm intelligence of IT experts. Participating bug bounty hackers have diverse backgrounds, individual approaches, and different tools. A single programmer cannot guarantee this comprehensive testing of software. Even in larger companies, the responsible software developers use specific software tools. Therefore, a bug bounty promises a more differentiated result.

Good to know: Pentests take place on a rotational basis and at specific times. This can be a problem, because incidents can occur between the individual tests. The situation is different with a "Vulnerability Disclosure Bug-Bounty Progam". Here, the company is in a crisis situation for practically the entire duration of the project. This results in security vulnerabilities being disclosed 365 days a year.

Bug Bounty Hunting: Benefits for Professionals and Companies?

Data theft, ransomware attacks and phishing: every day, cybercriminals design new malware and methods to harm businesses. In fact, the number of attacks has increased significantly in recent years. This makes a functioning and secure IT infrastructure all the more important. This includes regular vulnerability scanning as well as targeted and planned attacks using penetration tests. Companies that want to protect themselves efficiently against cyberattacks also issue a bug bounty.

Bug Bounty Hunting as a Career Booster

A Big Bug bounty offers a great incentive for IT experts. They can legally attack existing systems and, ideally, receive a bounty for doing so. Meanwhile, bug bounty hunting is considered a desirable career path: it is a booster for one's career and allows one to try out new and different technologies.
A particular incentive for IT specialists is that bug bounty hunting works regardless of location or time. The activity can be performed remotely. This enables a modern and flexible working day that not all companies can offer.
However, the Big Bug Bounty is not only attractive because of the possible bonus. Security experts acquire new knowledge here and deepen existing skills. In principle, they have the opportunity to team up with other participants. In this way, agility can be introduced into the Big Bug Bounty at the same time.

Benefits for Companies

Companies that want to improve their Security Incident Response or detect vulnerabilities benefit from bug bounties. Particularly in times of a shortage of skilled workers, many companies lack the IT professionals they need. In addition, smaller companies are rarely able to employ the necessary security experts. Experts like Turing-Secure help companies maintain security.
Those who also post a bug bounty motivate IT experts to track down vulnerabilities and security gaps. This adds a great deal of expertise to the company's in-house expertise. Finally, an internal IT department is no substitute for the targeted hacking of bug bounty hunters.
It is important for companies to understand that the increasing complexity of IT systems can compromise their security. Even if the company has enough junior staff, they may lack the expertise and skills. A bug bounty is therefore a valuable way to compensate for this shortage. If it is not possible to close any security gaps found on one's own, external specialists can help.
This means that companies that want to check their own IT security are best advised to tender for a bug bounty. On the other hand, very few companies rely on the expertise within their own company. This was the conclusion of a survey conducted for the Ethical Hacker Insights Report 2022.


IT security raises numerous questions in the enterprise: What is the state of security? How do I find the right pentest vendor? How can potential security holes be closed?
The first question in particular can be answered by issuing a bug bounty. This is because bug bounty hunters test companies' security mechanisms using the same methods that cybercriminals use. Unlike the cyber attackers, the hunters inform the company about possible findings. This allows information about security vulnerabilities to be gathered more quickly and the vulnerabilities to be closed. In the process, ethical hacking offers companies numerous advantages, which translate into increased IT security in the long term.

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