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Sysadmins! Microsoft now offers $100k for tales of your horrible infections

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It may have been a latecomer to the practice of offering cash rewards for reporting code flaws, but Microsoft is making up for lost time with an expansion of its security bug bounty program.

The Windows 8 giant started paying for vulnerability reports in June having ring-fenced a $100,000 prize pot just for security researchers. Now anyone who registers at doa@Microsoft.com can take part, so that if a new exploitable hole is discovered or – more importantly – hackers have found ways to defeat built-in protections, Redmond can get on the case as soon as possible.

Ultimately, Microsoft would like anyone from sysadmins to software engineers on the sharp end of a digital attack in the wild to report their findings. If your machine or entire network suddenly goes screwy, make sure that you collect all the evidence you can, because Redmond wants proof-of-concept exploit code and a technical analysis of the assault before it will hand over the prize.

"Individual bugs are like arrows. The stronger the shield, the less likely any individual bug or arrow can get through," said Katie Moussouris, senior security strategist lead for Microsoft Trustworthy Computing.

"Learning about 'ways around the shield,' or new mitigation bypass techniques, is much more valuable than learning about individual bugs because insight into exploit techniques can help us defend against entire classes of arrows as opposed to a single bug – hence, we are willing to pay $100,000 for these rare techniques."

Design flaws and coding gaffes can be reported even if they're not in production software: if beta code or preview versions contain exploitable bugs, Microsoft wants to know before the final code is released, and will pay for the knowledge.

"We want to learn about these rare new exploitation techniques as early as possible, ideally before they are used, but we’ll pay for them even if they are currently being used in targeted attacks if the attack technique is new – because we want them dead or alive," Moussouris explained in a blog post, adding the Bon Jovi track of that title is one of her favorite pieces of music.

Brit James Forshaw, head of vulnerability research at Context Information Security, was the first person to benefit from Microsoft's big-bucks foray into bug bounties. He bagged $100,000 in October after finding a fundamental flaw in Windows 8.1 security, and Redmond also paid out $28,000 to researchers who poked holes in Internet Explorer 11.

While some in the infosec community may be less than happy about allowing others to participate in the bug bounty program, it makes sense from a practical perspective to allow anyone a shot at getting a reward for flaw finding. It's not just researchers who search for this stuff and a payout would be a nice way to compensate an IT admin for the sleepless nights caused by a cunning new infection. ®

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