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Linkedin spurns bug bounty hunter

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"They were tickled and promised to hire us for consulting," DeMott says. Had I sold [the LinkedIn exploit] to the Russian mob, I could have gotten 100 grand. I don't know - but I could have gotten a lot more than $10,000."

DeMott also points out that the LinkedIn flaw was discovered as a result of pointing a fuzzer at the toolbar code. A spokeswoman for LinkedIn said she was unaware if the toolbar had ever been put to such a test, which is considered common security practice in some companies.

"How much money do they spend on other stuff?" DeMott asks of LinkedIn's engineering executives.

But plenty of security researchers say offers such as the one DeMott extended to LinkedIn have no place in legitimate security circles.

"I certainly don't feel comfortable with a model of pay us or we'll drop the proof-of-concept code," said Terri Forslof, manager of security response for TippingPoint, a division of 3Com that provides network security products. "From a vendor's perspective, there's no other way to look at it than as extortion, especially if the vendor doesn't have a defined model for handling this kind of request."

Forslof helps oversee Tipping Point's Zero Day Initiative, a program that pays bounties to researchers for responsibly disclosing vulnerabilities. Tipping Point uses the information to help keep its subscribers secure and also offers assistance to the affected company in plugging the security hole.

Echoing a familiar criticism of full-disclosure - in which researchers provide enough information for technically savvy individuals to reproduce the exploit - Forslof says going public with a vulnerability benefits no one.

"You've put an indefinite number of people at risk, given the recipe to the black market, and you didn't get paid for it because you just dropped it publicly."

DeMott says he approached representatives of the Vulnerability Contributor Program, a competing bounty program set up by VeriSign's iDefense division, to see if they might be interested in buying the LinkedIn exploit. He said talks got bogged down on issues he didn't want to detail and he never bothered to contact people at the Zero Day Initiative.

That's too bad, says Forslof, because the fees he was seeking "were not out of line". In her mind, the incident was a missed opportunity.

"If you're willing to take the time and the due diligence to try to get LinkedIn to hear your case, why not take the 5 or ten minutes to understand what those [third-party bounty] programs do with the information?" she says. "He would have gotten what he wanted, the vendor would have taken care of the problem, and users would not have been put at risk." ®

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