“Hackers for Hire”. NATO video enters vulnerability disclosure debate

Graham Cluley
@gcluley

NATO has released a short video, looking at the “hacker” phenomenon.

By hackers they aren’t just talking about the stereotypical malicious hacker, bent over a keyboard in a darkened room while wearing a hoody (although one of them does appear in the video), but also vulnerability researchers who find security holes in systems.

As the video makes clear, there is an increasing market for vulnerabilities.

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Those who find security flaws can not only profit from bug bounties paid out by the vendor whose software had the weakness, but they can alternatively (and controversially) choose to sell details of an exploit to others who might have more sinister intentions or no qualms about selling them on to those who do.

The risk associated with a security exploit being sold to the highest bidder, of course, is that the average user doesn’t necessarily get protected. Instead, details of the flaw may never be exposed to the software vendor, giving others an opportunity to abuse it for their own financial or intelligence gain.

Clearly that is something the NATO video is concerned about, and it takes pains to interview hackers who believe in responsible disclosure of bugs to vendors, giving the manufacturer time to fix the problem before details of the bug are made public.

With the stakes rising all the time, it’s no wonder that more people are wondering whether a career in IT security might be a good choice for them – either as a defender, or as a bug hunter.

As the video mentions, some countries (for instance, the UK and United States) have created “Cyber Security Challenges” in an attempt to attract bright new talent to the internet security industry.

If regular security industry jobs do not pay well enough, there is always the danger that a white-hat hacker might turn bad and be tempted to sell details of a flaw he has found to organisations with dubious ethics, offering large cheques.

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Graham Cluley is a veteran of the anti-virus industry having worked for a number of security companies since the early 1990s when he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows. Now an independent security analyst, he regularly makes media appearances and is an international public speaker on the topic of computer security, hackers, and online privacy. Follow him on Twitter at @gcluley, or drop him an email.

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