Security Researchers Don't Think Apple Pays Enough for Bug Bounties

Apple's bug bounty program has been available to select security researchers for almost a year now, but according to a new report from Motherboard, most researchers prefer not to share bugs with Apple due to low payouts. More money can be obtained from third-party sources for bugs in Apple software.

"People can get more cash if they sell their bugs to others," said Nikias Bassen, a security researcher for the company Zimperium, and who joined Apple's program last year. "If you're just doing it for the money, you're not going to give [bugs] to Apple directly."

Motherboard spoke to several members of Apple's bug bounty program with the condition of anonymity. Every single one said they had yet to report a bug to Apple and did not know anyone who had. iOS bugs are "too valuable to report to Apple," according to Patrick Wardle, a Synack researcher and former NSA hacker who was invited to the bug bounty program last year.

Apple first introduced its bug bounty program in August of 2016 at the Black Hat Conference, an annual global InfoSec event. Apple offers bounties of up to $200,000 depending on the vulnerability. Secure boot firmware components earn $200,000 at the high end, while smaller vulnerabilities, like access from a sandboxed process to user data outside of the sandbox, will earn $25,000.

Top Rated Comments

(View all)
Avatar
36 months ago

Seems a fair amount. How much are they supposed to pay a bunch of guys in their jammies in their parents basement with one hand in their pants?


A lot more considering they can just easily sell these exploits to people who can do a lot more damage with it for 5 times as much.....
Score: 22 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
36 months ago
I've been reading some of the comments here, as a new security researcher I find that some of your comments are victim of misconceptions that might be easily cleared up with some insight. For example:

Seems a fair amount. How much are they supposed to pay a bunch of guys in their jammies in their parents basement with one hand in their pants?


For one, you might've been right if we were talking about security research from 20 years ago, when it wasn't taken so seriously. However, modern security research is a business in and of itself. It takes a lot of knowledge and training, but more importantly it takes resources. Most external security researchers will not have access to the source code of these applications or OS features that they are probing for vulnerabilities.

Most groups that actively search for vulnerabilities apply techniques like 'fuzzing' where they dedicate hardware to constantly throw input at an application or API until it breaks, and then the researcher figures out if that break is exploitable. These breaks appear in the forms of application crashes and kernel panics. Most kernel level vulnerabilities would sweep the top of the bounty range, since that would allow for access to a system beyond that of an administrator or super user. Getting back to the point, Apple Hardware does not exactly come cheap, and to compete with a lot of the top end researchers like Google's Project Zero, you're going to need a significant investment to even get started.

When any company considers how much to pay out, the company must analyze how frequently bugs are going to be discovered that are significant enough to be rewarded, how much a vulnerability in this particular application or device would be paid for to malicious actors, and what damage to the company would a complete outbreak of an exploit targeting your product would cause to the company's image. If vulnerabilities are going to be frequent, its best to not offer a bounty and to have a team work in-house to discover them - because you will be flooded by submissions from amateur researchers grabbing low-hanging fruit. If vulnerabilities are going to rare and deal high damage to the company's image, as is in Apple's case which champions their security, then the payout needs to be significant enough to compensate researchers for their investment of both time and resources.

I hope this clears things up for readers.
Score: 20 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
36 months ago
The prices don't seem bad, and in fact seem pretty generous. I googled some other tech companies payouts and they are no where near Apple's.

Facebook claimed their largest payout ever was just $33,500. A bug that was reported that could unlock any user's account received just $15,000.

Microsoft's top payout is $30,000 with Google (apps such as gmail or YouTube specifically, not Android) just slightly up from there at $31,337. Unrestricted file system access that can lead to a google account takeover receives a max of $13,337 from Google.

For the Android part of Google, the top amount is $150-200k which is more on par with Apple.

I think the underground market will always pay more no matter what price Apple sets.
Score: 15 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
36 months ago

It isn’t about being a bad guy its about being compensated for your work. How much is your time worth? Would you sell it short just because it is the ‘proper’ channel? Most wouldn’t.

Well if you do anything other than report it directly to Apple you're per definition a bad guy. As for the compensation, nobody made you mess around with Apple's systems, you decided to put your own time into it. So if you sell it to a bad
guy, it shows your morality and that you couldn't care less....
Score: 10 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
36 months ago
So the guys most likely to cash in these bounties think the bounties should be higher?
Score: 10 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
36 months ago

It isn’t about being a bad guy its about being compensated for your work. How much is your time worth? Would you sell it short just because it is the ‘proper’ channel? Most wouldn’t.

If you're going to be honest here, the choice is selling it to Apple or selling it to criminals, for use in criminal activities.
Score: 10 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

Apple Considering Delaying iPhone 12 Launch 'by Months'

Wednesday March 25, 2020 12:51 pm PDT by Juli Clover
Apple is preparing to delay the launch of the 2020 iPhones expected to be equipped with 5G technology, according to sources with knowledge of Apple's plans that spoke to Japanese news site Nikkei. Apple has reportedly held internal discussions about the possibility of delaying the launch "by months" over fears of how well iPhones would sell in the current situation, and supply chain sources...

Apple Helps Source Over 10 Million N95 Masks for Healthcare Providers in the U.S.

Wednesday March 25, 2020 10:25 am PDT by Juli Clover
Apple over the weekend announced plans to donate millions of N95 masks to hospitals in the United States and Europe, and according to Apple CEO Tim Cook, Apple has been able to source more than 10 million N95 masks in the U.S. and millions more in Europe. Apple CEO Tim Cook said on Saturday that Apple was aiming to donate supplies to healthcare providers fighting COVID-19, and clarified...

Hands-On With the New 2020 12.9-Inch iPad Pro

Wednesday March 25, 2020 2:10 pm PDT by Juli Clover
Apple last week announced new 11 and 12.9-inch iPad Pro models, and as of today, the new iPads are arriving to customers. We picked up one of the new 12.9-inch models and checked it out to see just what's new and whether it's worth buying. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. When it comes to design, the new iPad Pro models are identical to the 2018 iPad Pro models, but ...

Kuo: Apple to Launch Several Macs With Arm-Based Processors in 2021, USB4 Support Coming to Macs in 2022

Thursday March 26, 2020 8:19 pm PDT by Joe Rossignol
Apple plans to launch several Mac notebooks and desktop computers with its own custom designed Arm-based processors in 2021, analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said today in a research note obtained by MacRumors. Kuo believes that Arm-based processors will significantly enhance the competitive advantage of the Mac lineup, allow Apple to refresh its Mac models without relying on Intel's processor roadmap,...

Apple Releases iOS and iPadOS 13.4 With New Mail Toolbar, iCloud Folder Sharing, Trackpad Support for iPad and More

Tuesday March 24, 2020 9:56 am PDT by Juli Clover
Apple today released iOS and iPadOS 13.4, the latest major updates to the iOS 13 operating system that was released in September. iOS and iPadOS 13.4 come two months after the release of iOS and iPadOS 13.3.1 with Screen Time Communication Limits. The iOS and ‌iPadOS‌ 13.4 updates are available on all eligible devices over-the-air in the Settings app. To access the updates, go to...

Apple Releases macOS Catalina 10.15.4 With Screen Time Communication Limits and Real-Time Apple Music Lyrics

Tuesday March 24, 2020 10:21 am PDT by Juli Clover
Apple today released macOS Catalina 10.15.4, the fourth update to the macOS Catalina operating system that was released in October. macOS Catalina 10.15.4 comes a couple of months after the release of macOS Catalina 10.15.3. macOS Catalina 10.15.4 can be downloaded from the Mac App Store for free using the Update feature in the System Preferences app. The macOS Catalina 10.15.4 update...

Apple Says MacBook Air With Retina Display Can Exhibit Anti-Reflective Coating Issues, Unclear if Eligible for Free Repairs [Updated]

Thursday March 26, 2020 8:16 am PDT by Joe Rossignol
Apple this week acknowledged that MacBook Air models with Retina displays can exhibit anti-reflective coating issues, as indicated in a memo shared with Apple Authorized Service Providers and obtained by MacRumors. "Retina displays on some MacBook, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro computers can exhibit anti-reflective (AR) coating issues," the memo states. Apple's internal service documentation ...

Hands-On With Apple's New Smart Keyboard Folio for the 2020 iPad Pro Models

Tuesday March 24, 2020 12:38 pm PDT by Juli Clover
Apple last week introduced new 11 and 12.9-inch iPad Pro models, which are set to arrive in the hands of customers starting this week. Apple introduced a nifty new Magic Keyboard with trackpad alongside the new iPad Pro models that's coming in May, but it also debuted a new Smart Keyboard Folio, which is available now. We picked up the Smart Keyboard Folio for the designed for the 2020 iPad...

Hands-On With the New $999 MacBook Air

Thursday March 26, 2020 1:45 pm PDT by Juli Clover
Alongside new iPad Pros last week, Apple also refreshed the MacBook Air, adding more storage, faster 10th-generation processors, and an updated keyboard. We picked up one of the new machines to take a look at some of the upgrades added in the 2020 update. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. Design wise, there are no real external changes to the MacBook Air's body,...

Mobile Networks in Multiple Countries Display 'Stay Home' Message When Users Connect to Cellular Instead of WiFi

Tuesday March 24, 2020 3:46 pm PDT by Juli Clover
iPhone users in several countries who disconnect from WiFi on their devices will see a "Stay Home" message at the top of the Control Center where cellular network information is displayed. Image via Matt Navarra According to reports on Twitter, the status bar messages are showing up in countries that include Germany, Belgium, United Arab Emirates, Peru, Turkey, India, Luxembourg, Romania,...