Operation Zero, a Russian zero-day acquisition firm, announced this week that it is offering up to $20 million for full exploit chains targeting Android and iOS devices.
Launched in 2021, the firm says it provides “technologies for offensive and defensive operations in cyberspace” and claims to be working with private and government organizations in Russia.
This week, the company announced that it was boosting the bounties offered for Android and iOS exploits, “due to high demand on the market”.
The bounties, Operation Zero announced, have been increased from $200,000 to $20 million for both Android and iOS exploit chains.
The firm also notes that “the end user is a non-NATO country”, likely referring to its client list that includes Russian entities only.
On its website, Operation Zero claims to be “the only official Russian zero-day purchase platform”, which was “created by information security professionals and for professionals”. It also claims that researchers should rest assured that these exploits will not fall “into the wrong hands”.
Zero-day acquisition firms such as Operation Zero typically purchase exploits targeting unreported vulnerabilities to sell them to government agencies or private organizations, without informing vendors of the bugs.
These exploits are often used to spy on specific targets, or are incorporated by spyware vendors into their products, which are then sold to totalitarian regimes for surveillance purposes.
At $20 million, the bounties offered by Operation Zero are much higher compared to what other exploit acquisition firms, such as Zerodium (up to $2.5 million) and Crowdfense (up to $3 million), seem to offer.
However, Operation Zero CEO Sergey Zelenyuk told TechCrunch that Zerodium and Crowdfense are likely offering more for exploits, but they simply haven’t updated public price lists.
Typically, the highest bounties are offered for exploit chains that can be executed remotely and do not require user interaction.
Improved security defenses and mitigations in modern mobile devices make it increasingly difficult for attackers to perform malicious activity by exploiting a single zero-day vulnerability, which explains why Operation Zero is looking for exploit chains.