Microsoft is expanding its $100k bounty program to include incident responders who find and document Windows platform mitigation flaws.

Today’s news means we are going from accepting entries from only a handful of individuals capable of inventing new mitigation bypass techniques on their own, to potentially thousands of individuals or organizations who find attacks in the wild. Now, both finders and discoverers can turn in new techniques for $100,000.

Our platform-wide defenses, or mitigations, are a kind of shield that protects the entire operating system and all the applications running on it. Individual bugs are like arrows. The stronger the shield, the less likely any individual bug or arrow can get through. Learning about “ways around the shield,” or new mitigation bypass techniques, is much more valuable than learning about individual bugs because insight into exploit techniques can help us defend against entire classes of attack as opposed to a single bug – hence, we are willing to pay $100,000 for these rare new techniques.

This is important because Microsoft just turned every target and victim into a potential bug hunter. The pool of people looking for these just increased massively.

Previously only security researchers could hunt these down and win the cash.

Researchers can be motivated to sell bugs to governments or criminals for more then $100k (Windows mitigation exploits are extremely valuable). Some professional response teams like to keep exploit details and indicators of compromise trade secrets, but not every response team is motivated that way.

This alters the economics for attackers, because they now need to be much more cautious in using their most valuable 0day exploits. If they attack the wrong target they are more likely to lose their exploit forever.

As exciting as this is, it still requires a knowledgeable defender who isn’t financially motivated to keep it secret (again, some vendors and commercial IR services). And there are plenty of lower-level attacks that still work. But even with those stipulations the pool of hunters just increased tremendously.