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Google is expanding its bug bounty program to include awards for patches that make material security improvements to open source software - even when the software isn't directly maintained by Google itself.

The Chocolate Factory has been rewarding developers for security fixes to its own software since 2010, when it kicked off its bounty program for the Chrome web browser. Now the company says it will also shell out cash to developers who submit fixes to select non-Google software, too.

To qualify for the program, developers must produce "down-to-earth, proactive improvements that go beyond merely fixing a known security bug," according to a blog post by Google security team member Michal Zalewski on Wednesday.

Initially, the bounty program applies only to a select group of open source projects, such as the OpenSSL and OpenSSH secure communications libraries, the BIND DNS software, and security-critical components of the Linux kernel, to name a few.

After an initial trial period, it will be expanded to include even more projects, including such popular packages as the Apache webserver, the Sendmail, Postfix, and Exim email servers, and the Gnu software development tools.

Zalewski said Google chose this selective approach because it believes it will be more productive than offering bug bounties for just any old open source software.

"In addition to valid reports, bug bounties invite a significant volume of spurious traffic – enough to completely overwhelm a small community of volunteers," he wrote. "On top of this, fixing a problem often requires more effort than finding it."

Aside from ponying up the cash, Google's approach will be mostly hands-off. Developers don't need to clear their fixes with Mountain View before submitting their patches. Instead, they should submit them directly to the maintainers of the projects in question. Once the patches are accepted and the updated code has shipped, they can then email security-patches@google.com with a description of what they did.

"If we think that the submission has a demonstrable, positive impact on the security of the project, you will qualify for a reward ranging from $500 to $3,133.7," Zalewski writes.

In fact, the online ad giant may choose to cough up even more in cases of "unusually clever or complex submissions" – the actual amount of each award being left to Google's sole discretion.

Then again, some developers may choose to contribute security patches strictly out of a sense of duty. In these cases, Google says they can opt to donate their bounty awards to charity and it will match their donations. Bounties that haven't been claimed after 12 months will be donated to a charity of Google's choice. ®

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