$100,000. That's the bounty Microsoft has just paid to a security researcher who was able to find a class of bugs in Windows 8.1 Preview that could bypass system protections.
The researcher, James Forshaw of Context Information Security in the United Kingdom, has been rewarded through a program that was announced in January by Microsoft, under which the company pays third-party researchers for helping to uncover vulnerabilities in the company's products.
The $100,000 reward is not for each bug detected, but for finding classes of bugs that will allow Microsoft to set up defenses against a variety of attacks. But what did he find? Microsoft is understandably being coy on those details, except to say that the discovered approach could bypass system-level defenses, which could include, say, Data Execution Prevention, commonly used in modern operating systems to prevent the execution of code from non-executable memory.
$128,000 Paid Out
Forshaw is close to making a living from besting Microsoft. In addition to the $100,000, he has also been the single biggest recipient of the IE 11 reward program, receiving $4,400 for four detected bugs and $5,000 for a security design problem. And Microsoft is not his only bug-payer. He has also received a substantial reward from Hewlett-Packard for figuring out ways to take unauthorized control of Oracle's Java software.
In announcing the $100,000 bounty, Microsoft noted on its Bluehat Blog that one of its own engineers, Thomas Garnier, "had also found a variant of this class of attack technique." However, the company said that Forshaw's submission "was of such high quality and outlined some other variants such that we wanted to award him the full $100,000 bounty."
The technology giant said it was making high payouts for a new attack technique, instead of smaller payments for bugs, because the new technique allows the development of defenses against entire classes of malware.
So far, Microsoft said, it has paid out more than $128,000 in its new bounty programs. The programs were announced in June -- a Mitigation Bypass Bounty, a BlueHat Bonus for Defense, and an Internet Explorer 11 Preview Bug Bounty.
The Mitigation Bypass offering pays up to $100,000 for "truly novel exploitation techniques" that bypass protections built into the latest OS version, Windows 8.1 Preview. The BlueHat Bonus has a reward of as much as $50,000 for "defensive ideas that accompany a qualifying Mitigation Bypass submission."
The IE 11 Bounty has a cap of $11,000 for revealing critical vulnerabilities in the Internet Explorer 11 Preview in Windows 8.1. Both Mitigation Bypass and BlueHat are ongoing, while the IE 11 Bounty only existed for the first 30 days of the browser's beta period, during June and July. IE 11 will be shipping on Oct. 18, when version 8.1 of the Windows operating system does.
Last week, Microsoft announced five others besides Forshaw who also received bounties under the program, in amounts ranging from $500 to $5,500. Two of the recipients work at Google.