Celebrating a million dollars in bounties paid

Heather Simpson ·
Jan 14, 2020 · 4 min read

What started as a small, public vulnerability disclosure program awarding swag on qualified reports has grown into a thriving public bug bounty program that’s just paid out its millionth dollar in bounties and has seen contributions from hundreds of security researchers.

But it's about much more than a million dollars in bounty payments. Our journey to this point has been an iterative one, gaining strength and improving along the way as we grow, learn and receive feedback from the security research community. We believe our journey models our commitment to building a strong and secure product for our customers but also our dedication to the open source and security community; one where everyone can contribute and also reap the rewards.

Swags to riches

Knowing we needed to walk before we could run, the swag-awarding public vulnerability disclosure program we’d opened in 2014 quickly moved to a private, paid bounty program including a small pool of researchers, many of whom gained access through the previous vulnerability disclosure program. As we grew our security and appsec team and seasoned our processes around how we prioritize reports and how we collaborate internally to define and implement fixes, we quickly understood we’d want an open, public program where an entire community of security researchers could contribute. With the help of HackerOne, we built and launched our public bug bounty program in December 2018. We’re excited to have just celebrated our one year anniversary as a public program in December 2019.

So, what does a million dollars in bug bounties look like?

• Our appsec team has worked with 768 different researchers since our PVD launched in 2014, including several of HackerOne’s all-time leading reporters.

• We’ve resolved 479 reports and made 400 of those reports public.

• 227 security researchers submitted multiple reports, meaning their first engagement with us was a positive one.

Transparency is key to security at GitLab. Transparency is also one of our core values and it's very important to our bug bounty program. You can see from our disclosure policy that resolved reports are made public via issues on GitLab.com 30 days after releasing a fix. There are certain reports, however, that we cannot disclose due to sensitive information, either at the request of the reporter or to protect a customer.

Being transparent about our security issues allows customers to see the importance we place on securing our product. There are security issues in every tool and application out there – that’s a given. By disclosing full vulnerability information after 30 days, we give customers the time and information to understand the vulnerabilities that have been found and fixed, and to determine any potential impact in their environment. Being transparent about our environment helps us to grow and strengthen the trust customers place in us. Also publicly disclosing valid bugs reduces the threshold to contribute and helps security reporters build upon previous findings, which ultimately makes our product and customers more secure.

Iteration is one of GitLab’s core values. And our bug bounty program is no different. In the time since launching our public program at the end of 2018, we’ve taken feedback from our security research community and reduced the time to bounty payout, moving part of the payout to the moment a report is triaged (on average, 5 days after the report is submitted), with the remainder of the payment happening once the report is resolved. Another improvement that’s been especially popular has been our decision to increase bounties for critical and high severity reports. But, we know it's not all about bounties and payouts. Other less exciting, but key, foundational components of our program like triage, response and overall communications stay top of mind to ensure we’re keeping hackers engaged.

And, what does the next million dollars in bounties paid hold?

We were proud to see the results of our most recent bug bounty contest (held October 1-November 30, 2019) include 279 reports from 123 different individuals (89 of them coming from new reporters!). We aim to keep reporters incentivized, motivated, and engaged to find bugs on our platform. Our public bug bounty program is as important to the security of our product and company as any other program we run within our Security Team here at GitLab, so we will continue to look at how we can strengthen and improve our processes and program, but also invite the feedback of our security research community for changes and updates they’d like to see.

Thank you to the security research community for your expertise, your innovative findings and techniques, and for making our product stronger and more secure!

Happy Hacking!

Photo by Joey Theswampboi on Pexels

“Together with our #bugbounty community, the @gitlab #appsec team has tackled a million dollars worth of bugs and we’re not done yet!” – Heather Simpson

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