Google will pay thousands of dollars to researchers who find and report vulnerabilities in the Android mobile operating system as part of a new bug bounty program announced by the company on June 16.
The Android Security Rewards program builds on the format used in the company's well-known bug-hunting initiative for its Chrome Web browser. Software security researchers who find verifiable issues and disclose them by following the company's guidelines can earn up to $38,000 per issue.
The program is part of the company's efforts to harden the Android platform, Adrian Ludwig, a lead engineer for Android security at Google, told eWEEK.
"We think we are going to be able to raise the quality of all applications on the platform," he said. "We want to make sure that, as researchers are finding these coding issues, they are telling us about them."
Rewarding researchers for vulnerabilities is not a new idea. In 1995, Netscape kicked off an initiative to pay programmers for finding bugs in its pioneering Web browser software. In 2002, Verisign iDefense created the first third-party program, offering to pay researchers for information on bugs in popular enterprise software. Now, companies, such as HackerOne and Bugcrowd, offer third-party services to create and manage vulnerability-reward programs.
The Android Security Rewards program will be Google's third bug bounty initiative. The company has two other reward programs and paid out more than $1.5 million last year to researchers. Currently, Google pays for security vulnerabilities found in the Chrome Web browser under its Chrome Reward Program and the occasional Chromium competition. The Google Vulnerability Reward Program (VRP), its second bounty program, pays prize money to researchers who find flaws in the company's Websites, including Google.com, YouTube.com and Blogger.
With its latest bug bounty, the company will increase its payout to flaw finders for more detailed vulnerability submissions. The prizes start at $500 for a moderate issue, $1,000 for a highly severe issue and $2,000 for a vulnerability considered critical.
If the researcher also provides a patch, a way to test for the issue, or a workable way of exploiting the flaw, he or she will get more money. Finally, if the researcher can show that the vulnerability can be exploited remotely or break into the TrustZone (a systemwide security approach), additional bonuses will be paid.
"The highest [amount] in terms of paying out [for] a single issue—if they provide the bug, and a patch, and a test, and an exploit chain—that adds up to $38,000," Ludwig said. "We want to really give people an incentive to find these issues."
Initially, the program will apply only to the latest version of the Android operating system running on Google's own phones, the Nexus 6 and Nexus 9, the company stated.
The company will not pay for bugs that merely crash an application or attempt to fool the user into clicking on a dialog box, such as social engineering or tapjacking. In addition, the complexity of exploitation will also be a factor in determining whether an issue qualifies for a bounty, the company said.