[Dailydave] Equitablefax

Katie M k8ek8e at gmail.com
Wed Sep 27 19:38:25 UTC 2017

Having a bug bounty program wouldn't have helped Equifax. Only Equifax
could have helped Equifax. The root cause of the problem wasn't that they
didn't know about the bug, it was that they face the same patch
prioritization risk vs resource balance that all orgs gamble with. They
lost that gamble, which is what every breach represents: a lost bet on the
tradeoffs. Simply knowing about a bug, via a bug bounty or otherwise, is
just that. And knowing is at best half the battle.

But to return to Dave's assertion about the bug bounty ecosystem itself and
what it currently is good for and what it's used for - I have many
thoughts. And even more songs.

"In a sense, the entire bug bounty market is a breeding ground for a
species that can collect extremely low impact web vulnerabilities into a
life sustaining nutrient cycle, like the crabs on volcanic plumes in the
depths of the Pacific. "


Agreed that the bug bounty market has evolved in this *particular stage of
it's growth* through its own complex system, the dynamics of which are heavily
influenced by factors like:

1. the types of organizations who have been adopting these incentives so
far (mostly tech companies),
2. the typical targets (mostly web sites), and
3. the types of vulnerabilities they tend to use bug bounties to find
(mostly low hanging fruit that could have been found using common free
tools & techniques).

Also a factor in this ecosystem is the geolocation and socioeconomic status
of the script kiddie bug hunting masses, who, unlike the early professional
penetration testers like us, don't have to adapt their techniques to find
more interesting, higher quality bugs to continue to be paid relatively
small amounts that are worth much more to them in their part of the world.

That's good for those bug hunters who are in this category. That's actually
bad for the evolution of the bug bounty ecosystem, and is accurate in
Dave's characterization of what's happening *right now*.

The upside effect though is that the bug hunter masses can now access a
safe marketplace for their skills regardless of those facts of where they
are and whether they could ever become a "security consultant". That's
generally good, but the *dominant* "species" of bug hunter, as Dave
accurately points out about them now will remain relatively unskilled if we
don't act with higher-order outcomes in mind.

It will be like an attempt at brewing beer that gets taken over and soured
by undesirable flora before the brewers yeast kicks in and creates the
desired effect. And I've been brewing the defensive market for
vulnerabilities far too long to watch idly and let the batch sour.

We ideally want to create an upward trend in bug hunter population skills,
as well as move the bug hunter targets themselves, towards more
sophisticated bugs. We are not raising the tide, and we are not causing all
ships to rise with it. Just by slapping a bug bounty or vuln disclosure
program on something, we are missing the point.

One of the papers that we produced out of the MIT Sloan School visiting
scholar systems modeling I worked on will come out sometime this fall
(2017) as a chapter in an MIT Press book. That paper looks specifically at
bug bounty participant data at a specific point in the development of this
economy. Bet you're curious about that supply side snapshot of the bug
bounty Mariana Trench. :) Look for that book with our research paper when
it's out.

Bug bounties as they have mostly manifested *right now, at this specific
stage in that ecosystem's development,* are a cheap, shiny thing to do,
with few exceptions.

And no, the exceptional bug bounties are not the ones that pay the most
more on that later. The presence of a bug bounty program is being currently
used by organizations to virtue signal that they take security seriously by
paying for web bugs, but often missing or ignoring aggregate threats, and
ignoring their internal failing processes to fix bugs.

It matters very much what's on the inside, versus the superficial, shiny,
bug bounty exterior.

Shiny (but still very insecure):


The alliterative buzz word "bug bounty", deceptively simple and so very
misunderstood, needs to evolve as an accepted concept into the more
accurate, more strategic "incentives".

Straight cash as the only lever for bringing all the (good) bugs to the
yard is short-sighted & pollutes the entire defensive reward ocean in this
evolution of the vulnerability and exploit markets. Cash is only one lever
in this system, and it isn't the most effective one if you're buying bugs
for defense purposes, as I've been saying for several years.

Perhaps if a strapping demigod of security would just repeat this for me,
it would replace the econ 101 BS that has plagued the emerging bug bounty
market. Of course, I'm sure they'd happily forget where they heard it first.


Just kidding, I'll speak for myself, as always:


Better-than-a-bug-bounty incentives that are much more effective for
improving defense may not be direct cash, may not be rewards at all.
Instead they might be a much harder deep introspective process, to examine
what drives the heart of an organization, what they are doing to defend
what's important to them, and whether the security choices, tradeoffs,
resources, and budgets are actually working for them. What incentives can
they use to tease out real risk, rather than being lazy and trendy and
calling it a success.

No, a bug bounty would not have helped Equifax prevent what happened, and
we need to seriously stop the VC-backed tsunami of propaganda that says
that it would. That stupid marketing trick employed by at least one of the
bug bounty platform vendors should be beneath the critically-thinking
readers of this list to entertain in terms of its obvious oversimplicity of
a non-trivial problem.

I'm not even going to address the cyber insurance idea on this, and by now
in this long operetta of a post, it should be obvious as to why.

Bug bounties and cyber insurance are not a remedy for a fundamentally
unscalable remediation model that most orgs and governments face today.
That's precisely why 94% of the Forbes Global 2000 in 2015 didn't even have
a front door to report a vulnerability, let alone a bug bounty, and it's
not much better now.

They struggle to fix the bugs they already know about, and the bottlenecks
in that *internal* process are what need work. Putting up a front door to
receive bug reports, even without a bug bounty, when there's nothing
operationally sufficient inside that org to address what comes through the
door, is not the chaos an org needs in the midst of drowning in technical

It's time to return the heart of the bug bounty ocean to stop the spread of
this intellectual and ecosystem-poisoning darkness. I've been staring at
the edge of the water, long as I can remember...


- k8eM0ana


🏝️👩‍💻🐞🌋🌺 @k8em0 @lutasecurity @k8eM0ana 🏝️👩‍💻🐞🌋🌺

On Wed, Sep 27, 2017 at 9:30 AM, Kristian Erik Hermansen <
kristian.hermansen at gmail.com> wrote:

> If Equifax had a public bug bounty program, someone would have reported
> the Java RCE in March 2017 and picked up $10K or more for it. But no,
> Equifax did not have a public bug bounty program. Say what you will about
> the pros and cons of a bug bounty program, especially for financial
> institutions which "know better than the public how to protect themselves",
> but at least in this case a known issue would have been well documented
> much earlier. We should encourage other credit and financial companies to
> consider public or at the very least private bug bounty programs. It's a
> mess to operate them, but not patching a known critical web flaw ASAP that
> allows RCE is precisely the legal definition of negligence. Equifax should
> pay dearly for it.
> Perhaps it's time to consider federal Cyber Security Insurance laws for
> such companies which forces them to pay fees to operate on the Internet
> just like everyone that drives a car on the road? If you crash your car
> every time you get on the highway, or you damaged 140 million cars while
> driving, you would lose your license for some time. Why hasn't Equifax lost
> their license to operate on the internet for some time? How about a 2 year
> hiatus on their annual revenue to punish them? Just a thought. Maybe Halvar
> can chime in on why Cyber Security Insurance regulation like that is OR is
> not the answer. He has been working on that lately...
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