What is your first thought when someone says hacker? Is it the kind of cybercriminals that threatened to publish President Trump’s “dirty laundry” emails unless a $42 million (£34 million) ransom was paid? Or maybe it’s the Russian military Sandworm Team that the National Security Agency (NSA) has just warned is behind an ongoing cyberattack targeting U.S. organizations? Some hackers work to a different rule book, like those who recently managed to bypass Apple’s iPhone iOS lockdown security and release a “jailbreak” hack that works across most versions including the newly released iOS 13.5 that many iPhone users will have updated to.
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When I think of a hacker, however, my mind turns to those security researchers who work hard to uncover and then responsibly disclose security vulnerabilities in the applications and services we all take for granted. You may be surprised to learn that one such group of hackers has already earned more than $100 million (£81 million) and is on course to break $1 billion (£813 million) by 2025.
So-called “white hat” or “ethical” hackers are in great demand, and rightly so. Many of them, more than 700,000 at the last count, are part of the HackerOne bug bounty platform. HackerOne describes itself as being a hacker-powered security platform, with nearly 2,000 organizations as customers. HackerOne connects the hackers with the organizations, triages all the submissions of vulnerabilities, and ensures that business security teams get well-documented reports and hackers get paid according to the criticality of the bugs found.
Since the first bounty of just $475 (£385) was paid in October 2013, bounties paid to date have now exceeded $100 million (£813 million) in total. In 2019 alone, HackerOne paid out close to $40 million (32.5 million) in bounties to hackers. A handful of HackerOne hackers have even become millionaires from their bug bounty payments.
In all, HackerOne CEO Marten Mickos said, “HackerOne has delivered about 170,000 valid vulnerability reports to its customers,” adding “with the average cost of breach somewhere around $8 million, the savings are in the tens of billions.”
And talking of billions, a billion dollars is how much Mickos predicts his company will have paid out to hackers within the next five years. “We estimate that there are around 100 million security vulnerabilities still out there in the wild,” he said, “we predict hackers will have earned $1 billion in bug bounties within five years, protecting companies and governments alike from persistent and ephemeral threats.”
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