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Measuring the success of bug bounty programs: outdated vs new methods

Shift from outdated metrics to advanced methods to monitor the success of your Bug Bounty Programs. Learn how HackGATE's insights and control can help.

Levente MolnarNovember 28, 2023 · 5 min read · Last Updated:

As bug bounty programs have matured over time, it’s clear that some of the earlier methods used to assess their effectiveness have become obsolete. To truly determine the impact of a bug bounty program today, organizations should embrace more sophisticated metrics. These might include advanced evaluations of the severity of discovered vulnerabilities, the quality of reports and interactions with researchers.

Regular assessments are also essential for organizations to stay responsive and evolve their bug bounty programs in alignment with their unique objectives and requirements. This approach ensures a more comprehensive and effective means of measuring the program’s impact.

In this blog post, we revisit popular, but outdated methods of measuring the impact of bug bounty programs, and suggest more advanced technologies to get better pentest results.

Outdated methods to gauge the impact of a bug bounty program

1. Counting the number of reported bugs vs prioritizing the quality of reports

In the early days of bug bounty programs, one common practice to measure impact was counting the number of reported vulnerabilities. Today, this method is no longer sufficient as it overlooks critical factors such as the severity and quality of the reported bugs.

Another common approach to assess the success of a bug bounty program relied heavily on the number of payouts, a method that, while important for rewarding researchers, could be misleading. This approach fails to account for the overall quality of the program and might leave significant vulnerabilities overlooked.

A better way to measure bug bounty success:

More advanced approaches focus on the quality of reports over the number of vulnerabilities found. This is where HackGATE provides a transformative solution: by implementing a comprehensive triage system that enables security teams to concentrate on critical insights, such as attack types, severity, duration, HTTP requests, and functionalities assessed; This approach marks a significant shift in the way bug bounty programs are monitored, making them more effective and insightful.

2. The number of ethical hackers vs their skill set and expertise

In the past, assessing a bug bounty program’s effectiveness often revolved around the sheer number of participating researchers. However, a larger pool of ethical hackers does not necessarily correlate with improved bug bounty results, so relying solely on this number is misleading.

What truly matters is the presence of skilled and experienced researchers who can identify and address high-impact vulnerabilities effectively. With an added layer of technical control over who you invite to your pentest project, HackGATE gives you full control over the participants of your pentest project, as well as peace of mind that no unauthorized hacker can access your systems.

3. Relying on activity logs vs advanced, real-time insights

Log-based monitoring relies exclusively on log files for hacker activity monitoring and has become an outdated method due to its limitations. It may not offer real-time insights into ongoing cyberattacks, rendering it less effective in the face of sophisticated or rapidly evolving hacking techniques. Moreover, sifting through vast amounts of log data can be a daunting task and makes retrospective analysis a bigger challenge.

As an external, cloud-based, and completely transparent tool, HackGATE functions autonomously, distinct from the actions of penetration testers. It effectively discerns various attack patterns, logs essential security information, and compiles compliance reports, thereby enabling you to maintain a thorough testing process and establish resilient security protocols.

4. Relying solely on the final report of the pentest provider

Putting all your faith in the pentest provider’s final report can lead to problems. It can leave organizations exposed to potentially shallow testing and a lack of transparency. When you can’t see behind the scenes, it’s challenging to gauge how thorough and diligent the pentest actually was. This lack of visibility might unintentionally put organizations at risk by allowing pentest providers to exploit your lack of insight, possibly resulting in a report that doesn’t paint an accurate picture of your real security status.

For a pentest to truly deliver results, the first thing you need to have is the ability to openly communicate with your pentest provider. HackGATE’s platform helps you truly understand what goes on under the hood during the testing. In a single dashboard, you get a clear overview of your bug bounty project, including most active users, attack types, severity, duration of testing, HTTP requests, functionalities assessed, and rewards, enabling you to take back the control.

Shifting towards advanced metrics to gauge the success of bug bounty programs

As bug bounty programs continue to evolve, it’s important to recognize that relying on outdated metrics to gauge impact is no longer enough. Organizations need to shift towards more sophisticated metrics, including an assessment of the quality of reports and interactions with researchers.

By emphasizing the quality of bug reports over quantity, matching skilled researchers with program goals, providing real-time insights, and rewarding researchers based on impact, these advanced approaches offer a more effective means of enhancing security.

Finally, instead of solely relying on the final report from pentest providers, open communication, oversight, and transparency through platforms like HackGATE are key to maximizing the results of penetration testing. By embracing these innovative methods, organizations can elevate their security posture and adapt to the evolving threat landscape with confidence.

Written by Levente Molnar
CTO & Founder of HACKRATE Ltd. Levente lives in a world of zeros and ones. He is an active bug hunter, successfully reported bugs to US DoD, Adobe, Logitech, BMW, Sony, and other big enterprises. As an IT Security Engineer, he planned, implemented, and managed various IT security solutions. He worked on international projects in Kuwait and Oman as an ethical hacker.

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