How Federal Agencies Use Vulnerability Disclosure Policies to Level Up Security

May 21, 2020 HackerOne Team

Vulnerability disclosure policies, or VDPs, have become a best practice for all organizations and government agencies. However, some organizations have yet to open their door to security researchers who are interested in submitting vulnerabilities found on their site. Soon, the federal government may require all agencies to publish a VDP.

With the right planning and foresight, you can turn this potential challenge into an opportunity to level up your security strategy.

HackerOne and the Government: An Enduring Partnership

Back in 2016, the Department of Defense handpicked HackerOne to run the government’s first hacker-powered security initiative, Hack the Pentagon. This successful event laid the groundwork for the DoD’s continuing partnership with the security researcher community. Working closely with HackerOne, the Department later launched a vulnerability disclosure policy, inviting ethical hackers to submit vulnerability reports. The program has surfaced over 12,000 vulnerabilities in just four years.

A year after Hack the Pentagon, the GSA’s Technology Transformation Service became the first federal civilian agency to layer hacker-powered security into their cybersecurity strategy. The agency partnered with HackerOne to launch a bug bounty program.

Leveling Up on a Tight Budget

Of course, most government agencies don’t have the DoD’s budget or resources. Without the right strategy in place, agencies looking to quickly implement a VDP risk spending unnecessary time and resources — only to open themselves up to an onslaught of vulnerability reports for which they’re unprepared.

As election season approaches, state and local government agencies can no longer sideline cybersecurity. If these agencies don’t find a way to level up fast, and on a tight budget, their constituents will pay the price.

Next Steps that Don’t Break the Bank

Fortunately, there are a few steps you can take to level up your security without significant expenditure.

You can start by implementing a VDP. At a minimum, it’s vital to ensure your state has a monitored process in place to receive vulnerability reports from third-party sources. A VDP empowers ethical hacks and security experts to flag potential issues to your security team before they can impact your constituents or compromise the integrity of an election.

A VDP doesn’t have to be long. It must simply contain five components:

  1. Promise: a good-faith commitment to stakeholders potentially impacted by security vulnerabilities.
  2. Scope: the products, properties, and vulnerability types covered by the VDP.
  3. Safe harbor: assures reporters of good faith that they will not be penalized for submitting vulnerabilities.
  4. Process: the process by which researchers may submit vulnerabilities.
  5. Preferences: a living document that outlines how reports will be evaluated.

“Good Enough” is not Good Enough

While a VDP is “good enough” to check a box, it’s not good enough for the safety of your constituents.

To make the most of your VDP, HackerOne offers the world’s largest, most diverse, and highly vetted community of security talent to hunt for vulnerabilities in your databases and websites. Evaluate your critical systems and report issues before they can impact your constituents — and do it without breaking the bank.

Want to learn more? Join our virtual roundtable on vulnerability disclosure policies for the government!

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