Blackphone and Silent Circle offer $128 bounty for security flaws

Smartphone starts program on Bugcrowd

The makers of the secure Blackphone smartphone and co-owner Silent Circle have announced a bug bounty programme that will pay a "minimum" of $128 (£78) for every security flaw bug hunters disclose to the firms.

The Bugcrowd-managed program covers the PrivatOS software that runs Blackphone's Android fork plus all network and cloud services, most though not all website flaws and vulnerabilities detected on the Silent Circle suite of secure apps used by the handset.

"We have high expectations for security and privacy. In order to deliver on our expectations we must continually build a strong relationship with the security research community," said Blackphone and Silent Circle CSO, Dr Daniel Ford (Blackphone being a joint venture with handset maker Geeksphone).

The company didn't explain why it was launching a bug bounty programme now although it is probably an inevitable consequence of the phone having reached its launch phrase, which began sales to the public on 30 June.

Another influence could be a recent admission that testing outfit Bluebox Security had found a significant flaw in the Silent Circle apps that could have revealed the user's credentials. Although the flaw was privately-disclosed, the potential for security flaws to be found by less responsible parties is clear.

As a new platform whose selling point is that it is a way to own an Android handset without some of the security compromises that entails, it is bound to come under attack. Blackphone emphasised to Techworld after the above disclosure that it took reports of security flaws seriously and aimed to issue patches as a matter of priority.

"By launching our Bugcrowd bug bounty program, both companies are assuring their customers that their smartphone and communication software is subjected to the latest testing and assessment techniques, while providing a form of compensation for successful contributors," added Blackphone CEO, Toby Weir-Jones.

The news is another sign of how important bug bounties have become. A decade ago, such programs were frowned upon as controversial eccentricities. Today they are seen as commercial necessities, with Google, Mozilla, Yahoo, Twitter and Microsoft all running well-remunerated programs for a growing number of coders who hunt down security flaws for a living.

Whether $128 will be enough to flush out the more serious bugs is unclear. Many of the programmes run by large software firms offer anything from hundreds to tens of thousands, depending on the flaw's severity.

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