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A Guide to Managing a Bug Bounty Program for Startups – Start Your Startup’s Security on the Right Foot

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If you are a security engineer/founder and your task/improvement is to create or maintain a Bugbounty program for your organisation or handle third-party pentests to improve your product and you are looking for some sort of roadmap where and how to start? You are at the right place.

Bug Bounty has been playing a great role between organisations & hackers, This has been a promising deal for both the hackers & organisations. Being a part-time sessional Security Engineer, I can vouch for the mindset of hackers & an experienced security engineer who manages bug bounty programs, third party pentests.

  • Understanding where we are standing right now ,The question you need to ask yourself –
    Do we have an in-house team for DAST? or pentesters or how big the team is ? – Let’s say we are small team with 5-6 smart guys who are putting all their knowledge, iterations of test cases and the creativity to improve the posture of your security. understand your allocated resources first.
    Understanding the resources around you is the key element here because the game in a startup is all about fast paced productive workflow.
  • Sketching your Infrastructure – Gather out the assets or check if you have any Asset Management solutions. Reach out to different teams for the documentation of your infrastructure. If you find any, Go !! Give kudos to your team or the people who have worked on it. This would have done your job almost easy or if not please go ahead and take up the initiative to sketch & document your infra. Maybe use notion templates to store or pitch asset management solutions to your team. I would recommend get a Qualys Asset management with the add on of their VMDB product. This would not only pass the different checkmarks of frameworks like CIS , NIST but also compliance with the Industry & Country the organisation is in.
    Find out how it can add value to your team and in business before pitching for any solutions.
  • Find out the Budget – This is very crucial to understanding where your organisation is in terms of finance, Find out from your managers whether the team has any allocated budget, and whether we are open to discuss for any commercial solutions.Do we have enough budget? , Do Management understands the value of security and its business impacts?Start by outlining the potential costs of a bug bounty program, including rewards, marketing, communication expenses or any additional resources that might need to manage & triage vulnerabilities.Find out the Return on Investment by highlighting the cost savings that can be achieved by identifying and fixing vulnerabilities before they can be exploited with the business risks attached to them.Share examples of successful bugbounty programs implemented by competitors or same businesses ,which also ensures your organization is proactively addressing security risks and protecting customer data, which can help increase customer trust and ultimately drive revenue growth.A bug bounty program can be cost-effective compared to other security measures, such as penetration testing or hiring a dedicated security team. If you are a small company you do not always need budget it is also about understanding the hackers mindset how they are open for help and collaboration instead of exploiting in the wild.Instead of rewards send out some swags, gifts, vouchers or some way of appreciation for their help without even any monetary benefit. Yes, you can host bugbounty programs without any budget just by sending away some sort of acknowledgement of the time, skills & efforts that they are going to make.
    Be open to negotiation and be prepared to address any concerns or objections that your team may have about the budget.Show them how it will be beneficial for the company in long run, rather than just being an expense.
  • Policies- Establish clear policies and guidelines on reporting & triaging vulnerabilities over the organisation.Also having internal policies for your team for handling and responding to reported vulnerabilities, including timelines for patching and disclosing vulnerabilities. Be prepared to handle a high volume of vulnerability reports, and have a system in place for quickly triaging and addressing them.Although platforms like Hackerone, Bugcrowd, Integriti provide an additional service of triaging where the team not have to bang their heads for every report they receive.
    Create policies on rewards & also to make sure to comply with legal requirements, such as GDPR, and ensure that you have the necessary legal and ethical guidelines in place.
  • Understanding Teamโ€™s psychology –
    Great teamwork only happens when all the people are sharing the same goal.
    It is important to understand where your team wants to head, Also discuss about Pentesting As a Service (PTASS), Hiring contractual pentesters, or Outsourcing, to find out what are their views , how they are looking at it.
    If your team is not getting what you are pitching likely it is not adding much value or you just couldnโ€™t make them realise how this could be benefitted.
    All the people in the organisation are sharing the same goal in some way other , There will be contradictions, healthy arguments, they are also making sure the organisation is reaching the threshold they are up to, try to pitch them the way you want your investors to invest in your startup, the way you believe & see it.
  • Platforms & Process – Finding out platform is not that easy, just because of any brand image, quality of service , buzz in the community you cannot give up your keys to any vendor. Research about their service, reviews from hackers , how they are treating your critical info, and how they are syncing with your goals & expectation.There are public BugBounty programs which you can go find out in hackerone , bugcrowd programs page which are open to public where the organisations insists everyone to join their program whereas there are programs where only by invitations hackers can join, those are private programs. Find out which one suits your organisation best understanding the man power & bandwidth you have.
  • Analysing Scope –Finding out the assets & creating scope is also a difficult task. Discuss with your team & upper management before you put out your critical assets on public.
  • Appsec pipelines –Lastly, Add the process in your pipeline for the continuous process of Triaging , Storing & Patching vulnerabilities.Communicate regularly with the community about the status of the program and any vulnerabilities that have been found and fixed.Continuously review, take feedbacks and improve the program to make it more effective.