curl joins the reborn IBB bug-bounty program

In April 2019 we launched the current curl bug-bounty program under the Hackerone umbrella and from my point of view it has been nothing but a raging success. Until today we’ve paid almost 17,000 USD in rewards and and the average payment amount has been increasing all the time.

The reward money in this program have been paid to security reporters sourced from our own funds. Funds that have been donated to the curl project by our generous curl sponsors.

Before that day in 2019, when this program started, we did a few attempts to lean on and piggy-back on other bug-bounty efforts, but that never worked good enough. It mostly made the process unpredictable, outside of our control and ability to influence them and they never paid researchers “proper”.

We even started this latest program in association with a known brand company (that I won’t name here) who promised to chip-in and contribute money to the rewards whenever they would affect one of their use cases – but that similarly just ended up an empty promise for something that apparently never could happen. It feels much more honest and straight forward not giving anyone such false expectations – so they’re no longer involved here.

The original Internet Bug-Bounty

Another “failed program” from the past, at least as far as bounties for curl issues go, was the Hackerone driven bounty program known as IBB. It was an umbrella project to offer bounties for security problems in a set of “internet programs” including curl. I won’t bore you with details why that didn’t work. I think they paid some small bounties to two or three curl related issues.

IBB reborn but different now

The experience from all previous attempts and programs we’ve tried for bounties says that we need to be in control of what reported issues that are considered security related problems and I think it is important that we reward all such issues, without discrimination or other conditions. If the issue is indeed a security problem, then we appreciate getting told about it and we reward the person who did the job, figured it out and told us.

Therefore, skepticism was the initial response I felt when I was briefed about the re-introduction, rebirth if you want, of the IBB program. We’ve been there, we tried that.

But after talking to the people involved, I was subsequently convinced that we should give this effort a chance. There are several reasons that made me think this time can be different, to our benefit. They include:

  1. The IBB program will pay the rewards from their funds, and they will do their own fund raising and “pester “big companies to help out, thus either entirely or mostly remove the need for us to fund the rewards or at least make our spending smaller. Or the rewards larger.
  2. The members of the curl security team will still work with reported issues the exact same way as before and our security team will remain the sole arbiters of what problems that are in-scope and what problems that are not for issues reported on curl. We’ve established a decent working method for that over the last two something years and I feel good about us sticking to this. The IBB program is mostly involved at the end of the process when the reward amount and payout are handled.
  3. We stick to mostly the same work-flow and site for reporting issues and communicating with reporters while the issues are in the initial non-disclosed state. Namely within the nicely working Hackerone issue tracker, which is designed and made specifically for this purpose.

Evaluation

We have not signed up for this new way of doing things for life. If it turns out that it is bad somehow for the curl project or for security researchers filing problems about curl, then we can always just backpedal back to the previous situation and continue as before.

This should be a fairly harmless test and change of process that should be an improvement for us as otherwise we won’t stick to it!

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