9 rules for a successful first-time Bug Bounty Program

December 14, 2023

9 rules for a successful first-time Bug Bounty Program

Choosing the right Bug Bounty platform is obviously a pivotal factor in how your organisation fares in its first foray into crowdsourced security testing.

From designing your program rules and selecting testers to handling incoming reports, your platform plays a key role in whether your programs meet and exceed your expectations.

However, your stakeholders – from product owners to development and cyber teams – must also understand and execute their own obligations effectively to maximise your return on investment.

Here are nine key ways you and your teams can ensure the success of your Bug Bounty Program – and how YesWeHack can support you in doing so.

#1 Your teams must understand their roles and responsibilities

The most involved teams will of course be your security team – notably in crafting and finetuning the scopes and rewards grid, liaising with our triage team and validating incoming reports – and developers, who apply fixes using our hunters recommandations and help if needed. Cyber teams will learn new attack methods and threats in the process, while devs will also benefit from the lessons in secure development by the hunters.

The most advanced programs might "also need your DevOps, SOC and pentesting functions to provide testers with credentials for grey-box testing, or accept and accommodate them conducting tests on “production environments, during off-hours and without a contract,” according to Yann Desevedavy, Bug Bounty program manager at Orange France.

Your legal team will be involved during the pre-sales cycle, so better onboard them as soon as you're decided to move forward! Obviously a program manager must be appointed, liaising between your internal resource and the bug bounty platform.

If your program goes public, your communication team (supported by YesWeHack) can promote your initiative as a competitive differentiator – demonstrating your transparency and commitment to security.

Finally, even your recruitment team can leverage Bug Bounty, since application security is an increasingly sought-after skill in the highly competitive jobs market for developers and security professionals.

#2 A dedicated program manager

A dedicated program manager must be appointed from within the security team with the time and capabilities to regularly review bug submissions, keep the program running smoothly and liaise with other teams or departments internally when needed.

Additionally, a back-up program manager should be available when the primary manager is on leave.

The program managers need not be overawed: contrary to conventional wisdom, managing a well-crafted, triaged program needn’t be time-consuming – YesWeHack provides a “fully managed” approach that enables clients to focus on remediation and approving bounties.

#3 A clear, detailed, up-to-date program brief

Your program brief comprises background information about your organisation, program rules, scopes, rewards grid, qualifying and non-qualifying vulnerabilities, and other specific testing requirements like how researchers can get credentials for the purpose of grey-box testing.

The rules should be concise yet sufficiently detailed and leave no room for misinterpretation. This cannot be understated. Vague, incomplete or out-of-date rules can lead hackers to waste time (yours and theirs) asking clarificatory questions – or simply abandon your program in frustration.

Periodic additions of new scopes, qualifying vulnerabilities or increased rewards can sustain or increase researcher engagement and further harden your assets.

Here again, our fully managed service does most of the hard work.

Withings Security Engineer Loic Deleforterie has cited writing the program brief as the trickiest Bug Bounty challenge of all, but said YesWeHack’s world-class support team “allowed us to get our program out quickly”.

#4 Efficient, prompt, fair triage

Few things are more critical to a program’s smooth operation than a low-friction triage process – something thankfully provided by YesWehack’s optional in-house triage team. Our highly rated triage service, which eliminates duplicate reports, validates bugs, reproduces Proofs of Concept, sets severity and communicates with hunters, frees your team to focus on remediation and improving and expanding the program.

“I think it’s world class,” said George Medhurst, program manager for Norway-headquartered global risk management giant DNV, in relation to YesWeHack’s in-house triage service. “We’ve shown our technical support teams for software products how they deal with things. We’ve learned a lot – for free,” added Medhurst.

But if your team decides to handle triage themselves, you should similarly ensure they’re staffed accordingly so that reports are processed efficiently and hunters are kept informed of their progress.

#5 Transparent reward and payment process

Slow payment of bounties, underpriced bounties (because severity is set incorrectly) or unjustified rejection of bugs (for instance because of erroneous designations as invalid or duplicates) are, unsurprisingly, a recipe for researchers eschewing your program (even after it migrates to a different platform) and warning their peers to do likewise.

Fortunately, YesWeHack invests heavily in our triage and customer success teams to ensure swift vulnerability assessment, accurate severity ratings and prompt bounty payments.

Your security team should play their part too, by clearly communicating payment processes and managing expectations around timelines for approving, fixing and paying out for vulnerabilities – all things our team can help you with when drafting the program rules.

#6 Integration with internal remediation processes – including your bug tracking tools

Seamless handover of reports to your IT teams for remediation is key to a successful Bug Bounty Program, since it reduces time-to-fix and streamlines your bug management process.

More specifically, a disconnect between your Bug Bounty Program and internal bug tracking tools or processes can create friction that slows down remediation.

YesWeHack’s connectors can integrate bug reports with your security tools – including GitHub, Gitlab, ServiceNow and Jira – to ensure you can instantaneously push bugs, once validated, to your dev team.

Custom integrations through our API can also automate your workflows and help you avoid manual, time-consuming tasks.

#7 Empower teams to ‘own’ security

Shared ownership of crowdsourced testing brings security and IT development teams together early in the development process, building a collaborative, win-win approach.

Unlike siloed operations that cause friction and misalignments between teams, Bug Bounty can empower teams by increasing their security awareness and unifying their objectives.

The YesWeHack platform facilitates this shared ownership paradigm through built-in collaboration and integration features. Vulnerability reports are accessible and easily trackable from a unified interface, while cyber and dev teams can directly interact with, and learn from, testers. This creates greater security awareness generally and specific, teachable lessons for secure software development.

The upshot is security-conscious developers introducing fewer vulnerabilities early in project lifecycles, and an agile, security-first approach to the development process.

#8 Ensure you stay within budget

Avoid the frustration of having to pause your program because your wallet is empty, by informing your customer success manager of your budget limitations at the outset. YesWeHack can help you design your program accordingly.

So if you have a strict budgetary ceiling, don’t worry – YesWeHack can help you manage your program to ensure you get the best possible results without ever exceeding your budget.

Nevertheless, it’s always wise to have a plan in place with your finance and/or procurement team in case additional funds are needed during the contract.

#9 Start small, but ultimately target maximum coverage

We always advise customers to start off with a single scope or small number of “modest” scopes, before gradually expanding the program as they gain confidence and become accustomed – with YesWeHack’s guidance – to the crowdsourced security testing model.

Starting with too much attack surface can uncover more vulnerabilities than IT has capacity to remediate – which also creates a headache for the security team. That’s why our customer success team ensures each program (especially an organisation’s first program) meets the client’s unique requirements around security, budget (see above) and remediation capacity.

Nevertheless, the inherent cost-effectiveness of our approach makes eventually subjecting your entire attack surface to testing by tens of thousands of hunters an achievable (and often, desirable) goal. Periodic additions of fresh scopes also helps maintain the continuing engagement of hunters.

Yann Desevedavy advises organisations to “start small but start as soon as possible”. For Orange France, comprehensive coverage became the ultimate goal. Given “the thoroughness of the hunters’ testing and the cost-effectiveness of the program, it became clear that we needed to include our entire internet-exposed surface,” said Desevedavy.

Ready to implement a successful first-time Bug Bounty Program in your organisation? Connect with our Bug Bounty expert today and take the first step towards enhanced cybersecurity.