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A Beginner’s Guide to Bug Bounty Hunting

Updated:
November 16, 2023
Written by
Ganga Sumanth

We're living in a world where every click and keystroke leaves a digital footprint, and that means that the battlefield isn't just physical – it's virtual. Cyber threats are the new frontier, and ethical hackers are rewriting the rules of cybersecurity through bug bounty hunting.

Bug bounty hunting isn't just a buzzword. Instead of waiting for cyberattacks to occur, ethical hackers proactively seek out weaknesses, tirelessly scanning software, websites, and systems. But how do organizations benefit from this symbiotic relationship? Why do they willingly invite these hackers to expose their vulnerabilities?

Table of Contents

  1. Understanding Bug Bounty Programs
  2. Common Types of Vulnerabilities Found in Bug Bounty
  3. The Bug Bounty Hunter's Toolkit
  4. The Bug Hunting Process
  5. Bug Bounty Hunting and Beyond with AppSecEngineer

Understanding Bug Bounty Programs

Bug bounty programs are initiatives launched by organizations to encourage security researchers, ethical hackers, and tech enthusiasts to proactively seek out vulnerabilities in their software, websites, and applications. Instead of adversaries, these organizations view these skilled individuals as allies in their battle against cyber threats. Participants, often referred to as bug hunters, embark on a mission to identify and report security weaknesses. In return for their efforts, they're rewarded with monetary incentives, recognition, or a combination of both.

Common Types of Vulnerabilities Found in Bug Bounty

Common Software Vulnerabilities

  1. Cross-Site Scripting (XSS). A malicious script injected into a website can execute in the browsers of unsuspecting users to steal sensitive information or enable cybercriminals to impersonate the user.
  2. SQL Injection. By inserting malicious SQL code into input fields, attackers can manipulate databases to gain unauthorized access to sensitive data.
  3. Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF). Cybercriminals trick users into performing actions they didn't intend, potentially leading to unauthorized actions within an application.
  4. Remote Code Execution (RCE). Vulnerabilities that allow attackers to execute code remotely and take control of the system.
  5. Privilege Escalation. Exploiting weaknesses to gain higher-level access within a system, often leading to unauthorized control.

Network Vulnerabilities

  1. Denial of Service (DoS) Attacks. Overwhelming a system with traffic to render it unavailable to disrupt services for legitimate users.
  2. Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) Attacks. Attackers intercept and manipulate communications between two parties without their knowledge to steal sensitive data.
  3. Network Sniffing. Unauthorized monitoring of network traffic to capture unencrypted data and compromise confidentiality.

Mobile Application Vulnerabilities

  1. Insecure Data Storage. Storing sensitive data in an insecure manner within mobile apps that can lead to data leaks.
  2. Inadequate Authorization and Authentication. Weak or flawed authentication processes that allow unauthorized access to user accounts.
  3. Code Tampering. Unauthorized modification of an app's code to insert malicious elements or bypass security measures.
  4. Improper Session Handling. Flaws in managing user sessions could allow attackers to take over user accounts.

The Bug Bounty Hunter's Toolkit

To become a successful ethical hacker, you need to arm yourself with more than just curiosity and determination. You need to have a sophisticated toolkit to empower yourself while navigating the intricate maze of digital vulnerabilities.

Essential Skills and Knowledge

  1. Programming Languages. Mastery of programming languages like Python and JavaScript is important. These languages allow ethical hackers to understand and manipulate code when identifying vulnerabilities and crafting exploits.
  2. Web Technologies. A solid grasp of web technologies – HTML, CSS, and HTTP – is essential for comprehending the intricacies of websites and web applications for hunters to uncover potential entry points.
  3. Security Protocols. Understanding security protocols such as SSL/TLS and OAuth is needed. These protocols govern secure communication and authentication, knowledge that helps hunters uncover weak points.

Tools of the Trade

  1. Burp Suite. A comprehensive web vulnerability scanner and proxy tool, Burp Suite allows ethical hackers to intercept, analyze, and manipulate HTTP requests and responses to uncover potential vulnerabilities.
  2. OWASP Zap. An open-source security tool, OWASP Zap assists in finding vulnerabilities in web applications. Its suite of features includes automated scanning and manual testing capabilities.
  3. Nmap. A network scanning tool used for discovering devices and services on a network, Nmap aids in uncovering potential weak points in an organization's network infrastructure.
  4. Metasploit. A powerful penetration testing framework, Metasploit helps ethical hackers identify and exploit vulnerabilities in various systems, applications, and networks.

Setting Up Your Environment

  1. Virtual Machines. Virtual machines (VMs) provide a safe testing ground. They allow hackers to simulate various environments, testing potential exploits without risking damage to real systems.
  2. Kali Linux. A specialized Linux distribution, Kali Linux is designed for penetration testing and ethical hacking. It comes pre-loaded with a suite of tools tailored for security testing.

The Bug Hunting Process

Bug hunting isn't a blind pursuit; it's carefully orchestrated through the digital realm. As you step into the shoes of an ethical hacker, let's break down the bug hunting process into its essential stages:

Reconnaissance and Information Gathering

  1. Understanding the Target. Thoroughly research the organization, its systems, and digital footprint to identify potential entry points.
  2. Scope Clarification. Ensure you understand the program's scope and rules before diving in.

Identifying Vulnerabilities

  1. Manual Testing. Manually probe the target for common vulnerabilities like XSS, SQL injection, and misconfigurations.
  2. Automated Scanning. Use tools like Burp Suite and OWASP Zap to automate scans and identify vulnerabilities.

Exploitation and Proof of Concept (PoC)

  1. Crafting Exploits. Once a vulnerability is found, create a proof of concept (PoC) to demonstrate its exploitability.
  2. Ethical Intent. Remember, your goal is to prove the vulnerability's existence, not to cause harm.

Reporting Vulnerabilities

  1. Detailed Reports. Document your findings meticulously, including the steps to reproduce, screenshots, and any relevant information.
  2. Clear Language. Use clear and concise language to ensure your report is understood by technical and non-technical stakeholders.

Communication with Organizations

  1. Polite Interaction. Communicate professionally and politely with the organization's security team.
  2. Prompt Response. Be prepared for follow-up questions and provide timely responses to maintain open communication.

Fix Verification and Follow-Up

  1. Fix Verification. Confirm that reported vulnerabilities have been fixed before disclosing them publicly.
  2. Follow-Up. Engage in post-disclosure discussions to ensure the organization addressed the issues adequately.

Bug Bounty Hunting and Beyond with AppSecEngineer

Offensive security takes the limelight in the cybersecurity industry with its proactive solutions and processes that preemptively uncover and mend security vulnerabilities before they transform into breaches. This strategy doesn't merely wait for threats to materialize; it embraces vigilance and detects weaknesses while harnessing the very exploitation techniques employed by potential attackers to assess and mitigate risk.

AppSecEngineer. is a full-stack application security platform that helps align seamlessly with the principles of offensive security. With its diverse range of learning paths, including Offensive Security, AppSecEngineer empowers any individuals that aspires to delve into ethical hacking and bug bounty hunting. Just as offensive security anticipates threats by mirroring adversary tactics, our comprehensive curriculum mirrors real-world scenarios, equipping learners with the tools, knowledge, and hands-on experience to proactively tackle cybersecurity challenges.

This blog is based on our Recon in Cybersecurity course that encourages responsible exploration – a cornerstone of both offensive security and ethical hacking. AppSecEngineer and our industry experts reinforce the invaluable principle that safeguarding the digital realm is not solely about defense, but about embracing proactive measures that safeguard our interconnected world.

Sign up with AppSecEngineer and start your journey as an ethical hacker today! 

Source for article
Ganga Sumanth

Ganga Sumanth

Ganga Sumanth is an Associate Security Engineer at we45. His natural curiosity finds him diving into various rabbit holes which he then turns into playgrounds and challenges at AppSecEngineer. A passionate speaker and a ready teacher, he takes to various platforms to speak about security vulnerabilities and hardening practices. As an active member of communities like Null and OWASP, he aspires to learn and grow in a giving environment. These days he can be found tinkering with the likes of Go and Rust and their applicability in cloud applications. When not researching the latest security exploits and patches, he's probably raving about some niche add-on to his ever-growing collection of hobbies: Long distance cycling, hobby electronics, gaming, badminton, football, high altitude trekking.

Ganga Sumanth