An enormous new challenge has been set for the information security community, what's known as a "bug-bounty" -- a cash reward in return for the discovery of vulnerabilities. For researchers, getting such prizes can be both lucrative and a point of pride. This week, the largest bug-bounty award ever in the amount of $1 million has set security researchers into a race to be the first. The target is iOS 9, and the challenge asks for a browser-based, untethered jailbreak of the operating system.
Previous bug programs have featured payout in the hundreds or even thousands of dollars, and in a handful of cases, on the order of a hundred thousand dollars. But a million bucks? That'll buy a lot of 10-hour energy drinks.
The company behind the bounty is known as Zerodium. The startup presents itself as a zero-day vulnerability and exploit acquisition program, meaning that being on the cutting edge of vulnerabilities is critical to its business model. The company reports security information that it collects from independent researchers on to clients through a security-research news feed. This information includes analysis, documentation, and protective measures.
Bug bounties have emerged as a popular way to discover vulnerabilities throughout the security community. It's a way to accelerate the discovery of security flaws before they emerge in the wild. Zerodium is prepared to pay out a total of up to $3 million in prizes for various exploits, according to contest details explained on the company's webpage:
The Million Dollar iOS 9 Bug Bounty is tailored for experienced security researchers, reverse engineers, and jailbreak developers, and is an offer made by ZERODIUM to pay out a total of three million U.S. dollars ($3,000,000.00) in rewards for iOS exploits/jailbreaks.
There's a catch however -- a deadline of 6 p.m. on October 31, 2015 for this particular program. So crackers, get cracking.
There are numerous indicators that suggest the web engine known as Webkit will be a prime vector in the hunt for this bug; WebKit is the core rendering engine in Apple's Safari web browser, after all. Google's Chrome browser uses a forked version of the same rendering engine called Blink. Both Webkit and Blink have been the target of repeated research projects as it is a component that has produced a number vulnerabilities and has been a primary path to successful exploits.
Although this research is initially oriented at the enterprise, the discovery of any significant bugs will undoubtedly reach the greater community as fixes and updates emerge to address them. Just this week, news emerged about another threat to the Apple ecosystem in the form of malware-compromised apps that had to be taken offline.