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Google boosts vulnerability reward programmes

Programmes to cover Chrome OS

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Encouraged by the success of its Web and Chromium vulnerability reward programmes, Google has decided to expand their scope in order to cover security issues in Chromium OS as well.

"By all available measures, the programme has been a big success," said Google Security Team technical programme manager Adam Mein about the company's Web vulnerability reward programme, in a blog post on Thursday.

Since its launch in November 2010, the programme has generated reports about 1,100 legitimate security issues that affected hundreds of Google's Web applications and services.

Google paid a total of $410,000 to more than 200 researchers for reporting 730 vulnerabilities that qualified for rewards. However, this is most likely just a fraction of what the company would have needed to pay in order to find the same number of vulnerabilities via professional security audits.

"Google has gotten better and stronger as a result of this work," Mein said. "We get more bug reports, which means we get more bug fixes, which means a safer experience for our users."

The company's other security reward programme, which pays researchers for finding vulnerabilities in the Chromium open source browser -- the basis for Google Chrome --- has also been a big success, according to Google security engineer Chris Evans.

The Chromium Security Rewards programme has been running for over two years and Google has paid security researchers more than $300,000 through it.

"We've been fascinated by the variety and ingenuity of bugs submitted by dozens of researchers," Evans said in a separate blog post. "We've received bugs in roughly every component, ranging from system software (Windows kernel / Mac OS X graphics libraries / GNU libc) to Chromium / WebKit code and to popular open source libraries (libxml, ffmpeg)."

According to the Google security engineer, the efforts of the wider security community have increased Chromium's stability and robustness.

Google has now decided to expand the scope of its Chromium security rewards programme in order to also reward researchers who discover high-severity vulnerabilities in Chromium OS, a Linux-based OS built around the browser.

This is an important decision for the company, because Chromium OS has a large code base and much of it was borrowed from Linux and other open source projects. This means that the likelihood of vulnerabilities being discovered in the entire OS is significantly higher for the Chromium browser.

Google believes that software vendors would benefit from setting up similar security rewards programmes. "Over time, these programmes can help companies build better relationships with the security research community," Mein said.

"By setting up a rewards programme, a vendor can identify vulnerabilities that their own developers might have missed," said Marius Gabriel Avram, a security engineer at U.K.-based vulnerability management firm RandomStorm. "This makes the Internet safer for all users."

During the last couple of years, Avram has reported vulnerabilities in Web services operated by companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft or Mozilla, some of which operate vulnerability reward programmes. Without a doubt, such programmes improve communication between vendors and security researchers, which in turn helps get security issues addressed quicker, he said.



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