The Mozilla Security Bugs Bounty Program will pay $500 to anyone who reports "significant security bugs" to the foundation. Foundation staff will judge which security bugs are significant enough to earn the cash prize.
The bounty program is seeking financial donations and is being seeded with funding from Linux operating system maker Linspire Inc. and venture capitalist Mark Shuttleworth. The foundation hopes to raise $10,000 in contributions by Sept. 1.
"The goal is pretty simple," says Chris Hofmann, the foundation's director of engineering. "We want to encourage people to find and report potential security issues."
Some security firms such as iDefense Inc. pay security researchers who provide them with newfound software vulnerabilities. But few, if any, nonsecurity software companies have programs designed to pay security researchers who spot vulnerabilities in their products.
Microsoft last year disclosed a cash bounty that would be paid to those who offer the software maker information leading to the arrest and conviction of virus and worm writers.
Security experts say the initiative could encourage more security researchers to comb through Mozilla's Firefox browser to uncover security holes that place Web surfers at risk of attack.
It could also encourage some to divulge the security flaws they uncover to the Mozilla Foundation, rather than simply publishing details about the flaws on the Internet before the foundation has had time to develop a patch to protect users from viruses and hacker attacks.
"This seems sensible. It is an incentive to those otherwise not inclined to disclose vulnerability in a productive manner to now do so," says Pete Lindstrom, director of research for Spire Security. "It provides a controlled process during the patch-creation process."
More information about the Mozilla Security Bugs Bounty Program can be found at www.mozilla.org/security.