Two-year-old startup Wickr is offering a reward of up to US$100,000 to anyone who can find a serious vulnerability in its mobile encrypted messaging application, which is designed to thwart spying by hackers and governments.
The reward puts the small company in the same league as Google, Facebook and Microsoft, all of which offer substantial payouts to security researchers for finding dangerous bugs that could compromise their users’ data.
Wickr has already closely vetted its application so the challenge could be tough. Veracode, an application security testing company, and Stroz Friedberg, a computer forensics firm, have reviewed the software, in addition to independent security researchers.
In a statement, Wickr said “we expect finding critical vulnerabilities in Wickr to be difficult and are honored to work with those that do.”
Companies benefit from these bug bounty programs because they create an incentive for a large number of engineers with various types and levels of expertise to test their applications. It can be a better investment than hiring full-time staff, according to one study.
Wickr said vulnerabilities that substantially affect the confidentiality or integrity of user data could qualify for the maximum reward. Less severe bugs could garner a researcher $10,000 or more. Researchers are required not to publicize their discoveries for three months without written permission, giving Wickr time to review and fix potential issues. Bug information should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Messages sent through Wickr are encrypted on the mobile device. Although the scrambled data passes through Wickr’s servers, Wickr does not have a key to decrypt the content. A message can be tagged with an expiry date that causes it to be erased on the recipient’s phone after a specific time.
Wickr, based in San Francisco, promotes its application, which runs on iOS and Android, as a safe way to send messages, photos, files and video. Since it does retain data on its servers, the company maintains it would be unable to turn over users’ data to law enforcement.