What Can Red Teamers Learn From Bug Bounty Hunters

In recent years, the world of cybersecurity has witnessed a dramatic rise in the sophistication and maturity of bug bounty programs. With tech giants and startups alike offering enticing rewards to those who can discover vulnerabilities in their systems, a new generation of security researchers and bug hunters has emerged. But how has this rise in bug maturity influenced other aspects of cybersecurity, especially the tools used by red teams?

The Evolution of Bug Bounties

Traditionally, organizations relied heavily on internal security teams or occasional penetration tests to ensure their systems were secure. However, with the rise of the digital age, companies began to understand the value of crowd-sourced security testing, leading to the birth of bug bounty programs.

As more organizations started to adopt bug bounty models, the skill level and techniques of participating hunters grew, and so did the tools they employed. This continuous feedback loop and the financial incentives led to the development of highly specialized tools tailored to discover vulnerabilities and assets faster, more efficiently and cheaply.

The Overlap between Bug Bounty Hunting and Red Team Operations

The reconnaissance phase in both bug bounty hunting and red team operations signifies the preliminary step where information gathering takes place to inform subsequent stages of the assessment. In this phase, both methodologies share a significant overlap.

Both bug bounty hunters and red teamers aim to gather as much information as possible about their target—this might include subdomain enumeration, IP address identification, service detection, identifying technology stacks, usage of publicly known vulnerable libraries and more. Open-source intelligence (OSINT) techniques are employed to gather data from public sources, DNS records are probed for potential subdomains, and various tools are used to fingerprint servers and find open ports. The recon phase for both approaches prioritizes a comprehensive understanding of the target’s digital footprint. While the end goals might differ—bug bounty hunters usually seek vulnerabilities to report for rewards, while red teams aim to emulate real-world attackers to test an organization’s defenses (and later try to grab a foothold inside the organization) —the initial steps they take to understand their target and find vulnerabilities overlap considerably.

At Cybenari, even though our main focus is not Bug Bounty Hunting, we make sure we are always up to date with latest and greatest open source tools made available by the amazing Bug Bounty community, so we can integrate these tools into our Red Team operations.

Now I suppose with some of these tools you can ask whether they were originally developed for penetration testing, red teaming or bug bounty, but I say it doesn’t matter. Its a “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” question. What is important here is that we can learn from each other. Anyway, here a just a handful of popular tools that can be leveraged for both Red Team Operations, Penetration testing and Bug Bounty Hunting.

Subdomain Enumeration:

  • Sublist3r: Helps enumerate subdomains using various search engines.
  • Amass: An advanced tool that pulls and collates data from many sources for domain enumeration.
  • Subfinder: A powerful tool to discover subdomains passively.

Content Discovery:

  • Gobuster: Directory/file & DNS busting tool written in Go.
  • SecLists: A collection of multiple types of lists used during security assessments, collected in one place. List types include usernames, passwords, URLs, sensitive data patterns, fuzzing payloads, web shells, and many more.

JavaScript Analysis:

Vulnerability Discovery:

  • Nuclei – a tool used for configurable targeted scanning based on templates. It offers the potential to rapidly scan large networks for security vulnerabilities, without requiring much setup or prior knowledge from the user.
  • BurpSuite – I probably don’t need to add more on this one.

The Democratization of Ethical Hacking

Another change bestowed upon the world of offensive security by the success of bug bounty platforms, is the democratization of the world of ethical hacking, enabling individuals from diverse backgrounds to dive into the realm of cybersecurity without the traditional barriers of formal education or institutional backing. Platforms that offer bug bounty programs have not only incentivized ethical hacking but have also been a breeding ground for collaborative learning and sharing. Influential figures in the community, such as Jason Haddix, STÖK, and Nahamsec, have played pivotal roles in this. Their contributions, ranging from the development and sharing of advanced toolchains to insightful tutorials, webinars, and methodologies, have made advanced hacking techniques more transparent and approachable. Through live-streamed hacking sessions, conferences, and interactive Q&A sessions, they have fostered a sense of community where both novices and veterans can exchange ideas and refine their skills. By openly discussing their methods and sharing their successes and failures, they have crafted a blueprint for many aspiring hackers, making intricate hacking methodologies not only more accessible but also more comprehensible to the masses.

So what can Red Teamers and penetration tester can take from the world of Bug Bounty Hunting? Well my answer to that is that Red teamers, in their quest to simulate advanced adversaries can learn from the ingenuity of bug bounty hunters in leveraging a myriad of (free/inexpensive) tools and automating their chaining offers a wealth of knowledge. Bug bounty hunters, driven by the potential for rewards and the race against the clock and peers, have perfected the art of efficiently stitching together disparate tools to unearth vulnerabilities that might be missed in more traditional assessments. Their adeptness at crafting custom scripts that bridge the gaps between standard tools can open new avenues for red teams to automate and enhance their own processes. By observing and integrating these tool-chaining techniques, red teams can optimize their operations, mostly in the recon and vulnerability discover phases, making their operations not only faster but also more comprehensive, reflecting the diverse, ever-evolving, and opportunistic strategies employed by real-world attackers. So if you are a Red Teamer or Penetration Tester and are clueless about the techniques used in Bug Bounty Hunters, I highly encourage you to check some of the tools and techniques used by them – You can seriously up your game!