Black Hat USA 2016 – Apple announced on Thursday its intention to launch a bug bounty program that gives a select group of researchers the opportunity to earn up to $200,000 for finding vulnerabilities in the company’s products.
The announcement was made at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas by Ivan Krstić, head of security engineering and architecture at Apple. Krstić said the company will invite a group of researchers it has previously worked with to take a crack at some of its products.
For the time being, the bug bounty program focuses on iOS and iCloud. Bug bounty hunters can earn up to $200,000 for a critical flaw in secure boot firmware components, up to $100,000 for extracting sensitive data protected by the Secure Enclave, up to $50,000 for arbitrary code execution with kernel privileges and unauthorized access to iCloud account data, and up to $25,000 for a sandbox escape. If researchers decide to donate the reward to a charity, Apple could match the donation.
While the bug bounty program is closed, researchers who are not included can still report vulnerabilities to Apple and they might get an invitation to participate. A submission will only be considered valid if it’s accompanied by a working proof-of-concept (PoC) and disclosure is coordinated with Apple.
“Apple’s program sets clear objectives. Find exploitable bugs in key areas,” said Rich Mogull, CEO of Securosis. “Because proving exploitability with a repeatable proof of concept is far more labor-intensive than merely finding a vulnerability, pay the researchers fair value for their work. In the process, learn how to tune a bug bounty program and derive maximum value from it. High-quality exploits discovered and engineered by researchers and developers who Apple believes have the skills and motivations to help advance product security.”
Apple’s bug bounty program will be launched in September. While it will be one of the highest-paying programs, experts have pointed out that legally selling exploits to third-parties could be much more profitable.
For instance, the FBI reportedly paid $1 million for an exploit that allowed the agency to access the password-protected iPhone belonging to the San Bernardino shooter. Last year, for a brief period, exploit acquisition firm Zerodium also offered $1 million for an iOS jailbreak. The company is currently offering half a million dollars for a remote iOS jailbreak.
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