Finding and patching cybersecurity threats and vulnerabilities before cybercriminals take advantage of them is difficult but crucial. As the speed of cybercrime advances, it’s becoming all the harder to keep pace, too. Amid these rising threats, crowdsourced cybersecurity is becoming an essential tool.
Crowdsourced security involves rewarding third parties for looking for and alerting companies to vulnerabilities they may otherwise miss. It’s similar to penetration testing but has a broader scope and opens issues to the public instead of hiring a single expert. As unconventional as it may seem, it has several advantages over traditional methods.
Crowdsourcing Fills Detection Gaps
The most obvious benefit of crowdsourced cybersecurity is that it puts more personnel behind an organization’s vulnerability management. With more people looking for cybersecuirty threats and bugs, it’s less likely that anything will slip through the cracks.
Conventional penetration testing provides similar benefits, but pen testers often work alone or on small teams. Crowdsourcing gets more people involved, and a bigger diversity of viewpoints and expertise provides more well-rounded coverage.
Human error is behind 95% of cybersecurity issues, so businesses can’t rely on small teams’ ability to find every risk, especially in a large or complex network. Turning to a larger group through crowdsourcing doesn’t eliminate the possibility of error, but it’s unlikely that every person will make all the same mistakes.
Gaps Are Growing
It’s also important to note that the detection gaps crowdsourcing fills are growing at many companies. Cybersecurity’s talent shortage is growing twice as quickly as new people entering the industry. As a result, most businesses lack internal teams large enough to reliably cover all their bases.
Cybercrime is becoming increasingly lucrative, and attack surfaces are growing amid rising digitization. Consequently, security professionals face an ever-rising mountain of threats to handle. These massive workloads and the stress they cause make it all the easier to miss cybersecurity threats.
Crowdsourcing helps by turning some of the most repetitive work over to larger groups of people who may have less daunting workloads. That way, internal teams can focus on sensitive internal matters without sacrificing vulnerability detection.
Crowdsourced Security Matches Cybercrime’s Agility
Crowdsourced cybersecurity is also agile. Bug bounties and similar programs help businesses spot and patch vulnerabilities faster, as more people are working on it. That rapid patching is essential because cybercrime is becoming more agile by the day.
One study found over 26,000 new vulnerabilities in 2023, over 1,500 more than the year before. That continues an eight-year-long trend of steady vulnerability growth. It’s not necessarily an issue of organizations becoming less secure. Rather, tools like ransomware-as-a-service and AI make cybercrime more accessible, so more criminals are pursuing and succeeding at it.
Cybercrime evolves quickly as criminals adapt to new defenses. Crowdsourcing lets companies match that agility by making their threat detection and management process much faster and more accurate.
Crowdsourcing Provides Ongoing Protection
Similarly, crowdsourced vulnerability identification isn’t a one-time fix. As long as organizations keep offering rewards, people will keep finding where defenses must improve. This ongoing protection is essential in a field as rapidly changing as cybersecurity.
No system is ever 100% safe, though even if it were, the next update could introduce risks where there were none before. New tools and strategies could give cybercriminals a way around existing protections, too.
Cybersecurity must constantly adapt to these changes, and crowdsourcing enables that level of adaptation. A steady stream of suggestions and warnings from dedicated users makes it easier to stay abreast of evolving threat factors and security best practices, enabling more reliable protections.
How to Approach Crowdsourced Vulnerability Detection
Organizations can no longer afford to overlook crowdsourcing as a security measure. Of course, maximizing this potential means understanding how to implement this strategy properly. Businesses looking to crowdsource their vulnerability detection should keep a few things in mind.
View Crowdsourcing as a Tool, Not a Solution
First, organizations must realize that crowdsourcing should complement other security measures, not replace them. These third parties lack access to private company systems, so their scope is limited. They also only highlight vulnerabilities. Patching them is still up to internal security experts.
The most resilient defenses are those that combine multiple methods. Using crowdsourcing along with AI threat detection is an effective combination. AI can reduce human error and predict potential attacks for real-time protection and added accuracy, while crowdsourced processes fill the gaps AI may miss from hallucinations or misleading data.
Crowdsourcing doesn’t remove the need for full-time security teams. Rather, organizations should see it as a way to reduce these employees’ workload so everyone can do their job more effectively.
Compare Crowdsourcing Strategies
There are also multiple paths toward crowdsourcing vulnerability management. The most familiar for many people is to put out public bug bounties, but that’s most effective when a company has a wide audience. Alternatively, businesses can turn to more formal, crowdsourced security platforms.
Crowdsourcing platforms like Bugcrowd and HackerOne have hundreds of experts to identify potential vulnerabilities. Partnering with an organization like this is more like a standard business transaction, which may be easier for smaller companies or those concerned about third-party privacy to pursue.
Which route is more cost-effective or reliable depends on the specific company. Leaders should compare their options and consider their unique restraints and goals to find the ideal way forward.
Keep Incentives Enticing
If organizations go the traditional crowdsourcing route — rewarding individual users for their work on a per-patch basis — they should consider how they incentivize action. If incentives aren’t enticing enough, people may not participate, limiting crowdsourcing’s effectiveness.
Rewards must be worth users’ time and effort. Monetary incentives are a must, and companies can look at what other businesses in their industry pay to understand competitive rates for identifying cybersecurity threats and bugs.
Remember, not all vulnerabilities are equally pressing. Consequently, users should get larger payouts for finding more urgent issues, while minor bugs only warrant small payments. This can make pay transparency tricky, but a good way to approach it is to set a clear minimum per-vulnerability rate, then establish tiers for higher-sensitivity findings.
Businesses should also keep in constant communication with their crowdsourced security experts. Thank people for their participation, and start a conversation whenever someone finds a vulnerability to get all the details and update them on any progress.
Open dialogue is also a great way to get help securing vulnerabilities. If someone finds an issue that teams have difficulty patching, reach out to people who’ve helped in the past. This ongoing communication aids faster fixes and helps minimize the 28% of vulnerabilities that go unpatched on average.
Crowdsourced Cybersecurity Is the Future
The cybersecurity worker shortage amid rising cybercrime rates is troubling. However, businesses shouldn’t ignore the army of freelancers and hobbyists who are ready to help at a moment’s notice. Crowdsourced cybersecurity can provide much-needed relief where conventional methods fall short.
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