Apple will now pay hackers up to $1 million for reporting vulnerabilities

Apple has just updated the rules of its bug bounty program by announcing a few major changes during a briefing at the annual Black Hat security conference yesterday.

One of the most attractive updates is…

Apple has enormously increased the maximum reward for its bug bounty program from $200,000 to $1 million—that's by far the biggest bug bounty offered by any major tech company for reporting vulnerabilities in its products.

The $1 million payouts will be rewarded for a severe deadly exploit—a zero-click kernel code execution vulnerability that enables complete, persistent control of a device's kernel. Less severe exploits will qualify for smaller payouts.

What's more?

From now onwards, Apple's bug bounty program is not just applicable for finding security vulnerabilities in the iOS mobile operating system, but also covers all of its operating systems, including macOS, watchOS, tvOS, iPadOS, and iCloud.

Since its inception around three years ago, Apple's bug bounty program only rewards security researchers and bug bounty hunters for discovering vulnerabilities in the iOS mobile operating system, which will continue until the expanded program comes into effect this fall.

Are you excited? Here's a special iPhone that can be yours...

From next year, Apple will also provide pre-jailbroken iPhones to a selection of trusted security researchers as part of the iOS Security Research Device Program. The new program was first reportedby Forbes.

These devices will have far deeper access than iPhones available to everyday users, including access to ssh, root shell, and advanced debug capabilities, allowing researchers to hunt for vulnerabilities at the secure shell level.

Though anyone can apply to receive one of these special iPhones from Apple, the company will hand out only a limited number of these devices and only to qualified researchers.

Not compelling enough? Bonus rewards are also waiting for you...

On top of its maximum reward of $1 million, Apple is also offering a 50% bonus to researchers who find and report security vulnerabilities in its pre-release software (beta version) before its public release—bringing its maximum reward to $1.5 million.

You can apply for Apple's revised bug bounty program later this year, which will be open to all researchers, rather than a limited number of security experts approved by Apple.

The expansion and massive boost in the payout of Apple's bug bounty program are likely to be welcomed by security researchers and bug bounty hunters who either publicly disclose vulnerabilities they discovered in Apple products or sell it to private vendors like Zerodium, Cellebrite, and Grayshift who deal in zero-day exploits, for profit.

FOR MORE THAN a decade, Apple has built a fortress around the iPhone, making iOS devices arguably the most locked-down computers accessible to hundreds of millions of people. They're so locked down, in fact, that even well-intentioned security researchers have trouble getting the access necessary to dig into their internals. Now Apple is taking an unprecedented step: distributing a more hacker-friendly iPhone to its favorite researchers, letting them hack the phone on "easy mode" in the interests of making it harder for everyone else.

The company is also offering bigger rewards than ever before for hackers who who can find and report those vulnerabilities. Its iOS bug bounty will pay out up to $1.5 million for a single attack technique that a researcher discovers and shares discreetly with Apple.

An iPhone for Hackers

At the Black Hat security conference Thursday, Ivan Krstić, Apple's head of security engineering and architecture, announced a broad revamping of the company's bug bounty program. It's now open to all researchers, rather than the current invite-only eligibility; includes not just iOS but macOS and other Apple operating systems; and vastly increases the rewards for certain rare forms of attack, from $100,000 for physical access attacks to bypass an iPhone's lock screen to an unprecedented $1 million for a remote attack that can gain total, persistent control of a user's computer without any interaction on the victim's part.

"People who sell zero days already have what they need. It's the good guys who want to report bugs to Apple that don't."


But the most unusual aspect of Apple's approach is that it will now give a custom-made version of the iPhone to certain chosen researchers. These devices will lack some layers of security protections so that their recipients may dig into the deeper, less examined core of the phone. "We want to attract some of the exceptional researchers who have thus far been focusing their time on other platforms. Today many of them tell us they look at our platform and they want to do research but the bar is just too high," Krstić told the Black Hat audience.

The security research devices, which Apple says it will start distributing next year, will offer users a "root" shell by default, letting researchers run commands on the phone with the highest privileges. They'll also have debugging abilities that will allow researchers to easily scour the phone's code for flaws. "We have by far the highest maximum payouts in the industry, and we have the iOS security research device program for exceptional researchers that are new to our platform," Krstić added.

On top of its $1 million top reward, Apple will also give a 50 percent bonus to researchers who identify flaws in its code when it's still in beta, before being released to a wider audience beyond developers—bringing its maximum reward for a single attack method to $1.5 million. "The second-best reason to have a bug bounty is to find out about a vulnerability that’s already in the users’ hands and fix it quickly," Krstić said. "The number one best reason is to find a vulnerability before it ever hits a customer’s hands."

All of those moves will be a welcome shift for security researchers who have previously been locked out of Apple's bounty program, or even denied bounties for serious vulnerabilities in Apple software other than iOS. "I think this is great. The bounties are open to everyone, and the prices are way more than I expected," said Linus Henze, an Apple-focused security researcher who had previously criticized the company for failing to offer a bounty for a macOS password-stealing attack known as Keysteal that Henze revealed earlier this year. Will Strafach, another longtime iOS-focused security researcher, added that it may even incentivize hackers to report bugs to Apple that they might have otherwise sold on the black market, where iOS attacks can often earn seven-figure payouts. "Apple is going to see a surge in new reports," Strafach said. "Even people who looked at other markets will think 'Maybe I should just report this to Apple."

Rocky Road

Apple's new bounty offerings represent the culmination of a long transformation in the company's relationship with security researchers. For years, as practically every other major tech firm from Google to Microsoft introduced hefty bug bounties to incentivize friendly security research, Apple remained a stubborn holdout. Only three years ago did it suddenly shift its attitude toward security researchers, offering bounties as high as $200,000 to researchers who revealed some types of vulnerabilities in the iPhone.

But even then, Apple's bug bounty program remained invite-only, open to researchers approved by Cupertino. As actual in-the-wild attacks on the iPhone have mounted, the security community has criticized Apple for not opening up further to researchers who might have helped fixed its bugs before they could be exploited.

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An Ethical hacker should know the penalties of unauthorized hacking into a system. Read more at: Legality and Ethics

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