Bounty Evolution: $100,000 for New Mitigation Bypass Techniques Wanted Dead or Alive

Those who know me personally or follow me on Twitter are familiar with my obsession with karaoke. I do it as often as I can rope people into going with me, never forcing anyone to sing, though invariably everyone does – or at least sings from the sidelines to the songs they know. One of my all-time favorite songs is Bon Jovi’s Wanted Dead or Alive, and it’s the song in my head as I write this post. By the end, I hope to have a few more people singing along. Go ahead and load it into the playlist as you read on.

Today, Microsoft is announcing the first evolution of its bounty programs, first announced in June of 2013. We are expanding the pool of talent who can participate and submit novel mitigation bypass techniques and defensive ideas to include responders and forensic experts who find active attacks in the wild. That means more people can “sing along” to earn big bounty payouts than ever before.

Today’s news means we are going from accepting entries from only a handful of individuals capable of inventing new mitigation bypass techniques on their own, to potentially thousands of individuals or organizations who find attacks in the wild. Now, both finders and discoverers can turn in new techniques for $100,000.

Our platform-wide defenses, or mitigations, are a kind of shield that protects the entire operating system and all the applications running on it. Individual bugs are like arrows.  The stronger the shield, the less likely any individual bug or arrow can get through. Learning about “ways around the shield,” or new mitigation bypass techniques, is much more valuable than learning about individual bugs because insight into exploit techniques can help us defend against entire classes of attack as opposed to a single bug – hence, we are willing to pay $100,000 for these rare new techniques.

Building upon the success of our strategic bounty programs, Microsoft is evolving the bounty landscape to the benefit of our customers. The bounty programs we have created are designed to change the dynamics and the economics of the current vulnerability market. We currently do this in a few ways:

  1. Offering bounties for bugs when other buyers typically are not buying them (e.g. during the preview/beta period) allows Microsoft to get a number of critical bugs out of the market before they are widely traded in grey or black markets and subsequently used to attack customers.

  2. Offering researchers a $100,000 bounty to teach us new mitigation bypass techniques enables us to build better defenses into our products faster and to provide workarounds and mitigations through tools such as EMET.

  3. Evolving our bounty programs to include responders and forensic experts, who can turn in techniques that are being used in active attacks, enables us to work on building better defenses in to our products. We will work whenever possible with our MAPP program and engage our community network of defenders to help mitigate these attacks more rapidly.

In this new expansion of Microsoft’s bounty programs, organizations and individuals are eligible to submit Proof-of-Concept code and technical analysis of exploits they find in active use in the wild for our standard bounty amount of up to $100,000. Participants would also be eligible for up to $50,000 in addition if they also submit a qualifying defense idea. The submission criteria for both programs are similar – but the source may be different.

To participate in the expanded bounty program, organizations must pre-register with us before turning in a submission by emailing us at doa [at] Microsoft [dot] com. After you preregister and sign an agreement, then we’ll accept an entry of technical write-up and proof of concept code for bounty consideration.

We want to learn about these rare new exploitation techniques as early as possible, ideally before they are used, but we’ll pay for them even if they are currently being used in targeted attacks if the attack technique is new – because we want them dead or alive.

This evolution of our bounty programs is designed to further disrupt the vulnerability and exploit markets. Currently, black markets pay high prices for vulnerabilities and exploits based on factors that include exclusivity and longevity of usefulness before a vendor discovers and mitigates it.  By expanding our bounty program, Microsoft is cutting down the time that exploits and vulnerabilities purchased on the black market remain useful, especially for targeted attacks that rely on stealthy exploitation without discovery.

We shall see how the song plays out, but I for one am excited for more singers to step up to the microphone, or to sing out from the sidelines.


Katie Moussouris

Senior Security Strategist and karaoke MC

Microsoft Security Response Center
(that’s a zero)