From Apple and Google to Facebook, PayPal, Intel and more, some of the world’s biggest companies have a bug bounty program. It allows them to identify vulnerabilities before they result in a breach or cyber attack. Cybersecurity professionals and users alike can typically participate in these programs. To learn more about bug bounty programs and how they work, keep reading.

What Is a Bug Bounty Program?

A bug bounty program is a cybersecurity program created by companies in which participants try to identify vulnerabilities. Companies may not be able to catch all vulnerabilities using an in-house team of cybersecurity experts. With a bug bounty program, they can leverage the expertise and experience of others. Participants of the program will look for vulnerabilities in the company’s software, network, website, etc.

Participants of bug bounty programs are often referred to as “ethical hackers.” Like black-hat hackers, they seek to penetrate a company’s cyber defenses. The difference is that ethical hackers have the company’s permission, whereas black-hat hackers do not. Ethical hackers also aim to improve the company’s cyber defenses through the discovery of vulnerabilities. Black-hat hackers, on the other hand, seek to capitalize on the company’s weak cyber defenses.

How Bug Bounty Programs Work

There are dozens of bug bounty programs available, some of which have different requirements than others. Nonetheless, most of them share some common characteristics. Users can sign up to participate in a company’s bug program bounty. Once approved for the program, they can begin to look for vulnerabilities.

Here’s a breakdown of how a typical bug bounty program works:

  • Company launches a bug bounty program
  • Ethical hackers apply to join
  • Participants begin to analyze the software, network, website, etc. for vulnerabilities
  • If discovered, participants will report the vulnerabilities to the company
  • The company will check the vulnerabilities, after which they will reward the participants who reported them
  • Participants are typically rewarded with cash or credit as an incentive

Why Companies Offer Bug Bounty Programs

Why do companies offer bug bounty programs exactly? It’s a form of proactive cybersecurity. Rather than waiting until a cyber attack occurs, companies can find and eliminate vulnerabilities with the help of a bug bounty program.

Bug bounty programs allow companies to leverage the expertise of non-cybersecurity professionals. Some of the smartest ethical hackers don’t work in the cybersecurity industry. Nonetheless, many of them participate in bug bounty programs to earn cash on the side.