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Google adds its Chrome extensions and apps to cash-for-cracks bounties

Ups serious open source fix reward to $10,000

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Google is so happy with its bug bounty program that it has increased the rewards given for flaw-finding and has added all of its home-grown apps and extensions for Chrome to the prize pot.

"We will broaden the scope of our vulnerability reward program to also include all Chrome apps and extensions developed and branded as 'by Google,'" said Eduardo Vela Nava and Michal Zalewski from the Google security team in a blog post.

"We think developing Chrome extensions securely is relatively easy (given our security guidelines are followed), but given that extensions like Hangouts and GMail are widely used, we want to make sure efforts to keep them secure are rewarded accordingly."

In November, Google paid an undisclosed sum to security researcher Oren Hafif after he spotted a "high impact" flaw in Gmail that allowed account hijacking. Under the new bounty program he'd probably have got the maximum $10,000 award for a serious flaw, but Google is now offering a minimum of $500 for more minor problems in its Chrome ecosystem.

Google has also seriously increased the bounties for its patch reward program (started last October) for open source code, such as the Linux kernel, OpenSSL, and BND DNS software. The original price range for flaws was between $500 and $3,133.70, but this is now only going to apply to "submissions that are very simple or that offer only fairly speculative gains."

Now there's a new $10,000 bounty for complex fixes that provide provable plugs to major security holes in the open source hit list, and a $5,000 runner's up bonus for "moderately complex patches that provide convincing security benefits." Open source security researchers can also earn up to $5,000 from Microsoft and Facebook.

Google has every reason to be pleased with its bug bounty program. Research shows the firm pays out about around $500 a day to independent security researchers, but that translates into major benefits when bug hunters find flaws in software before criminals do.

Crowdsourcing bug hunts is more efficient than having an in-house security team (although both are necessary) and the Chocolate Factory uses the system more than most. It seems odd nowadays, but it used to be a point of controversy to pay for flaw-finding – yet even Microsoft broke its bug-bounty virginity last year.

The addition of Google's Chrome extensions and applications to the bounty program is also an economically sensible move ahead of next month's Pwnium competition at CanSecWest. Google has $2.7m up for grabs, and paying out a few $10,000 bounties beforehand could save the firm a lot of cash in March. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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