Google to pay rewards for open-source code security fixes

The program aims to improve critical open-source tools widely used across the Internet

Google said Wednesday it plans to reward developers for developing proactive security improvements for some of the most widely used open-source software programs.

The program aims to "improve the security of key third-party software critical to the health of the entire Internet," wrote Michal Zalewski of Google's Security Team. Rewards will range between $500 to $3,133.70, he wrote.

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Google decided against creating merely a bounty program for open source code.

"In short, we decided to try something new," according to Google's description of the program. "Quite a few vulnerabilities trace back to preventable coding mistakes, or are made easier to exploit due to the absence of simple mitigation techniques. We are hoping to address this to some extent."

The kind of polishing Google is looking for include fixes involving privilege separation, memory allocator hardening, cleanups of integer arithmetics, and fixes for race conditions, according to the program's rules.

Open-source software projects are usually maintained by unpaid volunteers, although some companies that have built businesses around open-source software have full-time employees that contribute code.

Google's program potentially adds a financial incentive to what was otherwise usually unpaid work done out of sheer dedication. Google already runs its own vulnerability reward program, but it only applies to its own products.

The company has picked several of the most widely used open-source programs and code libraries used in networking, image parsing and security. It would be hard to find a company or organization that does not use some of the open-source programs and tools picked by Google.

The eligible programs include OpenSSH, OpenSSL, BIND and image parsers such as libjpeg and libpng. Others include common components of the Linux kernel, such as the Kernel Based Virtual Machine, as well as the open-source foundations of Google Chrome, including the Chromium browser and its Blink rendering engine.

Eventually, Google will extend the program to Web servers such as Apache and nginx, SMTP services such as Sendmail and Postfix and VPN software such as OpenVPN, among others, Zalewski wrote.

Fixes and improvements should be sent directly the project maintainers. If the code is accepted and merged into a project's repository, people should send the details to security-patches@google.com.

Send news tips and comments to jeremy_kirk@idg.com. Follow me on Twitter: @jeremy_kirk.

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