Facebook is hardly a small organization, with large teams of engineers and security professionals on staff. Yet even Facebook has found that it can profit from expertise outside of the company, which is why the social networking giant has continued to benefit from its bug bounty program.
In 2017, Facebook paid out $880,000 to security researchers as part of its bug bounty program. The average reward payout in 2017 was $1,900, up from $1,675 in 2016.
Facebook launched its bug bounty program in 2011 in an effort to improve security. The company has paid out a total of $6.3 million in bug bounties since the program began, with varying amounts in each of the last six years.
Back in 2014, Facebook reported that it paid out $1.3 million in awards to 321 researchers around the world. For 2017, Facebook has not publicly disclosed the precise number of researchers awarded bounties, though it did provide clarity on how many vulnerability reports it received.
Last year, Facebook received more than 12,000 vulnerability reports from security researchers, of which approximately 400 ended up being considered valid bugs. Facebook has a published guide for researchers on how to submit a quality report to help improve the number of valid reports.
"Moving forward we want to encourage valid reports, and so we're revamping our 'Thanks' page so that submission validity will be considered in the ordering of this Thanks page," Jack Whitton, Facebook security engineer, told eWEEK.
The Facebook bug bounty program applies to multiple Facebook properties, including the facebook.com site, Instagram, WhatsApp, internet.org and Oculus, as well Facebook's open-source projects. Among the items that Facebook considers to be out-of-scope for the bug bounty program are spam and social engineering techniques, as well as denial-of-service (DoS) attacks.
"We determine bounty amounts based on a variety of factors, including (but not limited to) impact, ease of exploitation, and quality of the report," Facebook's bug bounty terms page states. "If we pay a bounty, the minimum reward is $500. Note that extremely low-risk issues may not qualify for a bounty at all."
Bug bounties have become increasingly common, with many companies choosing to host a program on a third-party platform. In July 2017, Bugcrowd reported that the average bug bounty payout across its customer base was $451. In June 2017, HackerOne reported that across its customers the most commonly reported flaw was Cross Site Scripting (XSS).
Looking at Facebook's vulnerability reports, among the commonly reported bugs are flaws targeting user timelines.
"In 2017, we saw multiple submissions regarding posting polls on a page's timeline," Whitton said. "One of these let you delete any image—the researcher found that when attaching an image to the poll, we weren't checking you were the owner of the image."
Whitton added that when a poll was deleted, Facebook was also deleting any attached contents, so that there aren't any dangling objects, therefore deleting another user's image.
Looking forward, Whitton said Facebook will continue to encourage valid bug reports by thanking and rewarding researchers, as well as working on improving the process of handling reports.
"We're aiming to invest more resources into getting more timely responses and payments to researchers," Whitton said.
Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.