Pete Yaworski 12/20/2018

Bug Bounty Year in Review 2018

With 2018 coming to a close, we thought it a good opportunity to once again reflect on our Bug Bounty program. At Shopify, our bounty program complements our security strategy and allows us to leverage a community of thousands of researchers who help secure our platform and create a better Shopify user experience. This was the fifth year we operated a bug bounty program, the third on HackerOne and our most successful to date (you can read about last year’s results here). We reduced our time to triage by days, got hackers paid quicker, worked with HackerOne to host the most innovative live hacking event to date and continued contributing disclosed reports for the bug bounty community to learn from.

Our Triage Process

In 2017, our average time to triage was four days. In 2018, we shaved that down to 10 hours, despite largely receiving the same volume of reports. This reduction was driven by our core program commitment to speed. With 14 members on the Application Security team, we're able to dedicate one team member a week to HackerOne triage.

When someone is the dedicated “triager” for the week at Shopify, that becomes their primary responsibility with other projects becoming secondary. Their job is to ensure we quickly review and respond to reports during regular business hours. However, having a dedicated triager doesn't preclude others from watching the queue and picking up a report.

When we receive reports that aren't N/A or Spam, we validate before triaging and open an issue internally since we pay $500 when reports are triaged on HackerOne. We self-assign reports on the HackerOne platform so other team members know the report is being worked on. The actual validation process we use depends on the severity of the issue:

  • Critical: We replicate the behavior and confirm the vulnerability, page the on-call team responsible and triage the report on HackerOne. This means the on-call team will be notified immediately of the bug and Shopify works to address it as soon as possible.
  • High: We replicate the behavior and ping the development team responsible. This is less intrusive than paging but still a priority. Collaboratively, we review the code for the issue to confirm it's new and triage the report on HackerOne.
  • Medium and Low: We’ll either replicate the behavior and review the code, or just review the code, to confirm the issue. Next, we review open issues and pull requests to ensure the bug isn't a known issue. If there are clear security implications, we'll open an issue internally and triage the report on HackerOne. If the security implications aren't clear, we'll err on the side of caution and discuss with the responsible team to get their input about whether we should triage the report on HackerOne.

This approach allows us to quickly act on reports and mitigate critical and high impact reports within hours. Medium and Low reports can take a little longer, especially where the security implications aren't clear. Development teams are responsible for prioritizing fixes for Medium and Low reports within their existing workloads, though we occasionally check in and help out.

H1-514

Shopify x HackerOne H1-514
H1-514 in Montreal

In October, we hosted our second live hacking event and it was the first hacking event in our office in Montreal, Quebec, H1-514. We welcomed over 40 hackers to our office to test our systems. To build on our program's core principles of responsiveness, transparency and timely payouts, we wanted to do things differently than other HackerOne live hacking events. As such, we worked with HackerOne to do a few firsts for live hacking events:

  • While other events opened submissions the morning of the event, we opened submissions when the target was announced to be able to pay hackers as soon as the event started and avoid a flood of reports
  • We disclosed resolved reports to participants during the event to spark creativity instead of leaving this to the end of the event when hacking was finished
  • We used innovative bonuses to reward creative thinking and hard work from hackers testing systems that are very important to Shopify (e.g. GraphQL, race conditions, oldest bug, regression bonuses, etc.) instead of awarding more money for the number of bugs people found
  • We gave hackers shell access to our infrastructure and asked them to report any bugs they found. While none were reported at the event, the experience and feedback informed a continued Shopify infrastructure bounty program and the Kubernetes product security team's exploration of their own bounty program.

Shopify x HackerOne H1-514
H1-514 in Montreal

When we signed on to host H1-514, we weren't sure what value we'd get in return since we run an open bounty program with competitive bounties. However, the hackers didn't disappoint and we received over 50 valid vulnerability reports, a few of which were critical. Reflecting on this, the success can be attributed to a few factors:

  • We ship code all the time. Our platform is constantly evolving so there's always something new to test; it's just a matter of knowing how to incentivize the effort for hackers (You can check the Product Updates and Shopify News blogs if you want to see our latest updates).
  • There were new public disclosures affecting software we use. For example, Tavis Ormandy's disclosure of Ghostscript remote code execution in Imagemagick, which was used in a report during the event by hacker Frans Rosen.
  • Using bonuses to incentivize hackers to explore the more complex and challenging areas of the bounty program. Bonuses included GraphQL bugs, race conditions and the oldest bug, to name a few.
  • Accepting submissions early allowed us to keep hackers focused on eligible vulnerability types and avoid them spending time on bugs that wouldn't be rewarded. This helped us manage expectations throughout the two weeks, keep hackers engaged and make sure everyone was using their time effectively.
  • We increased our scope. We wanted to see what hackers could do if we added all of our properties into the scope of the bounty program and whether they'd flock to new applications looking for easier-to-find bugs. However, despite the expanded scope, we still received a good number of reports targeting mature applications from our public program.

H1-514 in Montreal. Photo courtesy of HackerOne
H1-514 in Montreal. Photo courtesy of HackerOne

Stats (as of Dec 6, 2018)

2018 was the most successful year to date for our bounty program. Not including the stats from H1-514, we saw our average bounty increase again, this time to $1,790 from $1,100 in 2017. The total amount paid to hackers was also up $90,200 compared to the previous year, to $155,750 with 60% of all resolved reports having received a bounty. We also went from one five-figure bounty awarded in 2017, to five in 2018 marked by the spikes in the following graph.

Bounty Payouts by Date
Bounty Payouts by Date

As mentioned, the team committed to quick communication, recognizing how important it is to our hackers. We pride ourselves on all of our timing metrics being among the best in the category on HackerOne. While our initial response time slipped by 5 hours to 9 hours, our triage time was reduced by over 3 days to 10 hours (it was 4 days in 2017). Both our time to bounty and resolution times also dropped, time to bounty to 30 days and resolution to 19 days, down from about a month.

Response Time by Date
Response Time by Date

Report Submitted by Date
Report Submitted by Date

In 2018 we received 1,010 reports. 58.7% were closed as not applicable compared to 63.1% in 2017. This was accompanied by an almost one percent increase in the number of resolved reports, 11.3%, up from 10.5% in 2017. The drop in not applicable and rise in informatives (reports which contain useful information but don't warrant immediate action) is likely the result of the team's commitment to only close bugs as not applicable when the issue reported is in our tables of known issues and ineligible vulnerabilities types or lacks evidence of a vulnerability.

Types of Bugs Closed
Types of Bugs Closed

We also disclosed 24 bugs on our program, one less than the previous year, but we tried to maintain our commitment to requesting disclosure for every bug resolved in our program. We continue to believe it’s extremely important that we build a resource library to enable ethical hackers to grow in our program. We strongly encourage other companies to do the same.

Despite a very successful 2018, we know there are still areas to improve upon to remain competitive. Our total number of resolved reports was down again, 113 compared to 121 despite having added new properties and functionality to our program. We resolved reports from only 62 hackers compared to 71 in 2017. Lastly, we continue to have some low severity reports remain in a triaged state well beyond our target of 1-month resolution. The implications of this are mitigated for hackers since we changed our policy earlier in the year to pay the first $500 of a bounty immediately. Since low severity reports are unlikely to receive an additional bounty, most low-severity reports are paid entirely up-front. HackerOne also made platform changes to award the hackers their reputation when we triage reports versus when we resolve them, as was previously the case.

We're planning new changes, experiments and adding new properties in 2019 so make sure to watch our program for updates.

Happy hacking!


If you're interested in helping to make commerce more secure, visit Shopify on HackerOne to start hacking or our career page to check out our open Trust and Security positions