7 tips to become a successful bug bounty hunter

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January 25, 2024

0 mins read

Bug bounty hunting is a process where security researchers or hackers actively search for and identify security vulnerabilities or "bugs" in web applications, IoT devices, mobile applications, or even smart contracts. These vulnerabilities can range from relatively simple issues like cross-site scripting (XSS) or SQL injection to more complex and critical weaknesses that could potentially compromise the security and privacy of users' data.  

How does bug hunting work?

Bug hunts allow security researchers to identify and report vulnerabilities in a responsible and ethical manner. The primary goal is to help organizations improve their security by identifying and fixing vulnerabilities before malicious hackers can exploit them. This is typically done in two different ways:

  1. Vulnerability disclosure programs: When a security researcher discovers a vulnerability, they report it to the organization or company that owns the affected system rather than exploiting it or sharing it publicly. The organization then has the opportunity to fix the issue before it can be used for malicious purposes. Responsible disclosures are commonly referred to as a “see something, say something” process. It is purely created as a communication channel between hackers and organizations. This approach does not typically award the hacker for their work. 

  2. Bug bounty programs: Similarly to a responsible disclosure program, hackers discover a vulnerability and report it to the organization that owns the affected system — without sharing it publicly. In return, they are given a monetary reward, often referred to as a bounty, for their work. Bug bounties are awarded based on unique findings. In other words, if multiple people submit the same vulnerability, only the first person to report it will receive the reward. 

My personal recommendation for new bug hunters is to start with a Vulnerability Disclosure Program (VDP) before joining a bug bounty for a few different reasons.

First, hacking on a public bug bounty program puts beginner hackers at a disadvantage because they are saturated and are often looked at by more experienced hackers. This will decrease the chances of finding valid vulnerabilities as well as increase the chances of finding a duplicate submission. In other words, you are more likely to find a valid submission on VPD in comparison to a bug bounty program. 

Second, VDPs will allow you to create your own testing methodology and discover your strengths. Hacking on a VDP will help familiarize you with the different vulnerability types, teach you how to approach them, and allow you to learn about the basics of recon and automation. 

The point of hacking on a VDP instead of a bug bounty program is to learn as you hack while creating a positive experience that helps build momentum. So, if you are reading this blog post and you are just getting started with bug bounties, keep this in mind! 

Now that we understand the advantages and disadvantages of a bug bounty program versus a vulnerability disclosure program, let’s discuss the top 10 tips to become a successful bounty hunter:

7 Tips for bug bounty hunting

Find your niche 

Finding your niche plays a big role in how successful you become as a hacker. Your niche could range from the different technology stacks you hack on, to the vulnerability types that you enjoy hacking on the most. For example, I personally enjoy looking for cross-site Scripting (XSS), server-side request forgery (SSRF), and insecure direct object reference (IDOR) vulnerabilities. While you can find these vulnerability types in any technology stack, I often avoid hacking on most applications developed in .NET.

So, find out what you are the most passionate about, learn as much as you can about the specific topic and validate your niche by looking for these specific vulnerabilities on live targets.

Don’t stop learning 

Hacking comes with the curse (or blessing?) of having to always learn new techniques and keep up with the latest technologies. As new technologies and frameworks are released, you will have to learn new ways to break into them. Often, the root cause of most vulnerabilities are very similar to research that has been done previously, but they all come with creative ways to expand on them. 

Always keep up with new technologies and security research from conferences, and continue to sharpen your skills and expand your knowledge as you progress on your journey as a hacker.

Stay consistent

Just like anything in life, consistency is key! There will be times when you are going to find it difficult to find vulnerabilities, and this can feel discouraging —  but always remember, it’s a part of the process, and every hacker goes through this phase. 

Use this experience to reevaluate your strategy and to improve your knowledge. Staying consistent will pay off in the long run, especially once you start finding more vulnerabilities again. 

Collaborate and join the community

Joining a community helps you connect with like minded people and gives you access to a network of peers to learn from. Having the right people to collaborate with will enable you to see how others approach similar situations and how they overcome them. For example, you may learn how they approach a specific vulnerability type or how they look for them in specific functionalities. 

These communities can be both local and online. Create an account on Twitter and follow hackers that inspire you. Look for different Discord servers that may be of interest to you. Attend your local security conference and make some connections!

Automate the boring tasks (be efficient) 

Automation can help us save a lot of time when it comes down to boring tasks. Automating these tasks doesn’t necessarily mean that you should replace your entire workflow with tools and custom scripts — it means finding ways to be efficient. Creating keyboard shortcuts, bash aliases, or custom scripts will not only help you become more productive, it also allows you to focus on the more important tasks.

If you use a specific command line tool more than a few times a day, create an alias or script that saves you time from rewriting the same syntax over and over again.

Go outside of your comfort zone

It is common for us to seek comfort, but pushing past those boundaries can lead to discovering unexpected new topics that you may be passionate about. Stepping outside of your comfort zone will create new opportunities for you to learn new skills that will be beneficial to your journey as a hacker. 

If you get to a point where you are bored or tired of your current “niche”, don’t be afraid to pivot into a brand new topic. I personally started off with hacking large web applications, then learned about recon and automation, and just recently started to hack on desktop and mobile applications.

Take a break 

This last tip is extremely important! Success can be addictive, and it’s easy to lose sight of other aspects of our lives. So don’t be afraid to take some time off to take care of yourself. Taking a break will also allow you to process all of the information you have been learning or allow you to come up with solutions to the current vulnerabilities you are working on. 

So don’t be afraid to step away from the computer. Take some time to enjoy life, whether it’s for a few hours, a few days, or even an entire week. But remember to go back and pick up where you left off.

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