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Google splashes out the cash for cunning cracks

Boosts bug bounties and offers $2m Pwnium purse

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Google's increasing the financial incentives for reporting vulnerabilities with an upgraded bug bounty scheme and a $2m purse for its latest Pwnium Chrome hacking contest, to be held in October.

The Chocolate Factory's Chromium Vulnerability Rewards Program has paid out more than ONE MILLION DOLLARS to researchers who bring in documented new bugs, on top of nearly half a million shelled out for non-Chromium web vulnerabilities. But according to Google security software engineer Chris Evans, this still isn't enough dosh to hold a hacker's interest.

"Recently, we've seen a significant drop-off in externally reported Chromium security issues," he blogged. "This signals to us that bugs are becoming harder to find, as the efforts of the wider community have made Chromium significantly stronger."

To spur interest and reward harder work, Google's adding a bonus of $1,000 for any bugs that are deemed "particularly exploitable," with similar awards for flaws that work on a wide variety of platforms besides Google's, or which are discovered in sections of the code base previously determined to be stable and bug free.

In particular, Google is looking for flaws in GPU drivers, especially in Intel's hardware, as well as any 64-bit code flaws. It's also said extra awards are available for finding vulnerabilities in the stripped-down Linux kernel that powers its Chrome OS, if they can bypass the system's sandboxing.

Presumably these kinds of hacks will be what the judges are looking for at in Google's second Pwnium Chrome hacking contest. The purse for this round, held at the 10th anniversary Hack in the Box conference in Kuala Lumpur in October, has doubled to $2m for people who can kick holes in Chrome's security.

Those who can demonstrate (and document) a "Full Chrome exploit" on a Windows 7 system running the latest build of the browser can bag $60,000. A "Partial Chrome Exploit," which uses at least one bug to get user access earns $50,000, and a successful attack on a "Non-Chrome exploit" via Windows or Flash will net $40,000 to the demonstrator.

All this money sloshing around is good news for security researchers, and the bounty system Google has run since 2010 pays off internally, too. The Chocolate Factory gets a bit more security, which is a useful selling point for Google Apps in enterprise, and the cost is nothing in terms of its marketing budget, while providing pocket money and more for legitimate researchers. ®

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