What Is a Bug Bounty? Should You Offer One? And How To Do It

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We explain what a bug bounty is, how it helps identify security vulnerabilities, and how to run a bug bounty program effectively.

What Is a Bug Bounty?

A bug bounty is a reward offered by organizations to ethical hackers for discovering security vulnerabilities. A bug bounty program can be either public or private. The organization sets the scope and outlines the type of bugs included.

Who Uses Bug Bounty Programs?

Many large organizations use hackers as a core part of their vulnerability management strategy. Organizations like Alibaba, Apple, Google, and Shopify all have systems to leverage the global hacker community to improve their security.

Organizations that have an established internal security team can take advantage of bug bounty programs. The programs allow hackers to discover vulnerabilities and notify the remediation team quickly for patching. A bug bounty program bridges the gap between hackers and developers, offering numerous benefits for both parties.

Bounty programs give organizations access to a global network of skilled hackers to test their products, providing an advantage over other forms of testing. This combination of skills at scale helps identify complex vulnerabilities before cybercriminals can exploit them.

How A Bug Bounty Works

Bounty programs provide a single platform for hackers to submit vulnerabilities, communicate with developers, and receive payment for their work. Unlike cybercriminals who exploit vulnerabilities with malicious intent, hackers use their skills to help organizations identify weaknesses and reinforce their security.

Hackers receive payment when they submit a valid vulnerability to an organization. They send this information through a vulnerability disclosure report that outlines the nature of the bug, how cybercriminals can exploit it, and the steps needed to reproduce it. 

Armed with this information, remediation teams can quickly validate and prioritize vulnerabilities to deploy patches faster. Rewards for discovering vulnerabilities can vary and scale with the severity of the bug. Many organizations pay hackers thousands of dollars for each vulnerability they disclose. These lucrative rewards can amount to millions of dollars paid out over time, with some hackers earning a full-time income.

Bug bounty programs offer more than financial incentives to hackers. The programs provide a place to network, sharpen their skill sets, and gain recognition for their work helping hackers grow within their community, leading to invites to private programs.

Is a Bug Bounty Program Right for You?

The popularity of these programs is rising, but they’re not for everyone. Organizations need to have a developed security program that can fix newly discovered bugs. Without a basic remediation process in place, a bug bounty program isn’t the best solution. 

For organizations that choose to take their bounty programs public, they can see a large number of submissions. IT departments can become overwhelmed without a remediation system in place. 

Building a Bug Bounty Program

Before launching your organization’s program, you’ll need to prepare your infrastructure and have a general understanding of your scope and privacy settings. Let’s review a few key steps in launching your first bounty program.


Before considering a bug bounty program, make sure your applications can endure testing. Hackers use a diverse toolset to scan for misconfigurations, vulnerable ports, and insecure traffic. This scanning can impact the products you include in your scope. 

Consult with your technical team to ensure the products you’re testing can withstand a rapid number of requests per second. This step ensures testing won’t bring down a live application and impact customers. Some organizations choose to limit their scope to a specific testing environment or restrict testing methods that could impact application performance.


The scope defines what hackers can and can’t test including or excluding specific products, domains, and testing methods. Define the scope as clearly as possible and consider your program’s goals while setting the scope. Be aware of overly permissive scopes, as they can lead to a flood of reports from old and unused systems. Create a focused bug bounty program scope by taking the time to understand the attack surface.

Private vs. Public

Your bug bounty program can either be open to the public or made private through an invite-only system. Public programs can receive submissions from the entire hacker community, leading to a large volume of reports. These reports are public to other hackers on the platform.

Private programs keep reports confidential. Only hackers who receive an invitation can hack within your scope. Private programs minimize submissions allowing organizations to ease into bounty programs. Some organizations also prefer them because they maintain confidentiality regarding security issues. Organizations can always shift to a public platform if they choose.


To get an idea of what to reward per vulnerability, consider similar programs in your industry. Maintaining a competitive bug bounty program keeps the hacker community interested and invested in your products and organization. Bounty programs that pay well attract top hackers and inspire loyalty. 

How HackerOne Can Help

If your organization is looking to uncover critical vulnerabilities that conventional tools miss, HackerOne Bounty has everything you need to launch an effective bug bounty program on a single platform. Contact us today to learn more.


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