Bug Hunters’ Perspectives on the Challenges and Benefits of the Bug Bounty Ecosystem


Although researchers have characterized the bug-bounty ecosystem from the point of view of platforms and programs, minimal effort has been made to understand the perspectives of the main workers: bug hunters. To improve bug bounties, it is important to understand hunters’ motivating factors, challenges, and overall benefits. We address this research gap with three studies: identifying key factors through a free listing survey ($n$=56), rating each factor’s importance with a larger-scale factor-rating survey ($n$=159), and conducting semi-structured interviews to uncover details ($n$=24). Of 54 factors that bug hunters listed, we find that rewards and learning opportunities are the most important benefits. Further, we find scope to be the top differentiator between programs. Surprisingly, we find earning reputation to be one of the least important motivators for hunters. Of the challenges we identify, communication problems, such as unresponsiveness and disputes, are the most substantial. We present recommendations to make the bug-bounty ecosystem accommodating to more bug hunters and ultimately increase participation in an underutilized market.

32nd USENIX Security Symposium (USENIX Security 2023)
Distinguished Paper Award (less than 5% of accepted papers received this award)
Taha Eghtesad
Taha Eghtesad
Ph.D. student
Aron Laszka
Aron Laszka
Assistant Professor