Secunia, a Danish vulnerability management company, aims to make the task of reporting software vulnerabilities easier for security researchers by offering to coordinate disclosure with vendors on their behalf.
The Secunia Vulnerability Coordination Reward Programme (SVCRP) is the latest addition to a list of offerings like TippingPoint's Zero Day Initiative or Verisign's iDefense Labs Vulnerability Contributor Program, which allow researchers to avoid the hassle of dealing with different vendor bug reporting policies.
However, according to Carsten Eiram, Secunia's chief security specialist, SVCRP doesn't aim to be an alternative to these programmes, but to complement them.
"Other major vulnerability coordination offerings exist but most have a business model wrapped around them," Eiram said.
All vulnerabilities accepted
"Most other schemes pay researchers for their discoveries, and, while these offerings are excellent for researchers, the companies are, naturally, very selective in which vulnerabilities they wish to purchase and coordinate," he said.
Secunia plans to fill the void left by other programmes by accepting the vulnerabilities they reject, regardless of their classification and as long as they are in off-the-shelf products. Flaws discovered in online services such as Facebook, for example, do not qualify.
The company won't profit directly from SVCRP and doesn't plan to provide advance notification about the reported flaws to its customers, as other companies do. "All customers, as well as the community at large, will receive the information simultaneously when the Secunia advisory is published," the firm said.
Researchers will continue to receive payments they are entitled to from vendors for disclosing vulnerabilities even if they use SVCRP for coordination, Secunia said.
Googe bounty programme
However, vendors have the final word on whether they will pay out rewards to researchers who offload vulnerability coordination work to companies such as Secunia.
For example, the guidelines of Google's Chromium Vulnerability Rewards Program make it clear that vulnerabilities disclosed through brokers and other third parties are not likely to receive a bounty.
"I do not know whether Google would pay for vulnerabilities coordinated via Secunia, however, considering the nature and the purpose of our programme, especially the fact that we don't have a business model wrapped around it, seems to make it more likely that Google would accept reports via Secunia rather than other programmes," said Thomas Kristensen, Secunia's chief security officer and co-founder.
Secunia's own experts will investigate and confirm every submitted vulnerability before sharing it with the corresponding vendor, so researchers will get independent validation of their findings, and affected companies will receive consistent reports.
Vulnerabilities rather than exploits rewarded
Unlike other programmes, SVCRP doesn't require researchers to provide working exploits for the vulnerabilities they find. Kristensen said that providing only information that allows his company to reproduce the findings will suffice, although additional details are welcome.
This allows security researchers to focus more on what they do best - finding vulnerabilities - than on writing reliable exploits, which can take a considerable amount of time. Not all researchers are skilled exploit writers and not every exploit writer is necessarily good at finding vulnerabilities.
Secunia will also reward the programme's most valuable contributors, but not with cash. Instead, each year the company will invite to a top security conference the researcher who reported the most interesting vulnerability and the one who submitted the best-quality reports throughout the year.
The Secunia chief security officer would like to see more software companies setting up vulnerability bounty programmes in the future. "Researchers do a lot of free Quality Assurance work for vendors. Any reward for their work and their willingness to coordinate the disclosure would be a good move from the vendors," Kristensen said.
Unfortunately, many companies don't yet see the value of that and are not interested in encouraging outsiders to point out their software's flaws, he said.