Over $100K Awarded in Latest Hack the Air Force 2.0 Bug Bounty Effort

The U.S. Air Force conducted a 20-day bug bounty challenge in which 106 vulnerabilities were disclosed and patched.

Hack the Air Force

The U.S. Air Force has once again engaged with hackers in a bid to help improve the security of the Air Force's public facing digital assets. 

The 20-day Hack the Air Force 2.0 security initiative was operated by the HackerOne bug bounty platform and involved security researchers from 26 countries that were all looking to find vulnerabilities. As part of the Hack the Air Force 2.0 effort, 106 valid vulnerabilities were discovered, with the Air Force paying a total of $103,883 in award to security researchers. The first Hack the Air Force program in June 2017 resulted in $133,400 in awards that were paid to security researchers. 

"This is the first time that we've had Department of Defense personnel on site in a live hacking program," Alex Rice, co-founder and CTO of HackerOne, told eWEEK. "We have done the bug bounty programs remotely in the past, which is common and this was the first one to start off with a live event."

The live event was a single day activity on Dec. 9, 2017 that kicked off the 20-day Hack the Air Force 2.0 challenge. The results of the challenge were not publicly disclosed until Feb. 15. The live event was the single most prolific day of the 20-day effort, with 55 of the 106 total vulnerabilities reported that day.

"The Hack the Air Force programs are against publicly facing assets, things that you can get to from the internet, " Rice said. "They're all un-classified systems."

The biggest single award issued as part of Hack the Air Force 2.0 initiative was $12,500 for an exploit chain that was demonstrated at the live event. Two security researchers made use of a vulnerability in an Air Force website to pivot onto the Department of Defense's unclassified network. 

HackerOne has been working with the Department of Defense on bug bounty programs since 2016, when the first Hack the Pentagon program was operated. The bug bounty programs have continued and expanded in the years since, with specific programs for the Air Force and the Army.

"One of the trends we're seeing with the Department of Defense programs is that they are experimenting to find the right balance for openness," Rice said. 

Rice noted that the first Hack the Pentagon challenge was just for U.S. citizens, while the recent Hack the Air Force 2.0 program was open to participants from 26 countries. In his view, the more open a bounty program is, the better the outcome.

HackerOne Platform

The experience with managing bug bounties for the Department of Defense have helped to inform and improve the overall HackerOne platform as well.

"One of the things we have learned is that one size does not fit all. There are a lot of different ways to run programs to engage with the hacker community in meaningful ways," Rice said. 

There are a range of public and private bug bounty program options, Rice noted, as well as different setups for screening and inviting hackers to participate in a program. The goal is to help organizations get the right set of hacker resources that are appropriate for a given security challenge

"It's kind of stunning the number of different ways you can work with the hacker community today and that trend will continue," Rice said. "Organizations get value from collaborating with hackers and the exact way that happens is really based on what works best for the company and the particular asset they want tested."

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.