Bug Bounty Bootcamp (Amazon, No Starch Press) by Vickie Li is one of No Starch Press’s newest offerings in the security space. The alliterative title is also the best three word summary I could possibly offer of the book – it is clearly focused on getting the reader into a position to participate in Bug Bounties from the first page to the last. This differentiates this book well against other web security books, despite covering many of the same vulnerabilities.
Note: I was provided an early access copy of Bug Bounty Bootcamp by the publisher for review, but they had no editorial input. All of the opinions in this review are my own.
The first couple of chapters provide an introduction to the Bug Bounty space, helping the reader to understand the role of bounties in the overall security program of a company, selecting a bounty to participate in, and how the programs are managed in different situations. It also does a fairly good job of setting expectations for new bounty participants, but I think it might be a little bit on the optimistic side for some that are newer to the space.
The second part of the book covers some foundational knowledge and tooling setup, as well as performing reconnaissance on the target environment. The recon section feels a little light because there are so many situational approaches out there, but for a beginner, it will be a good start. As one gets more experienced, you will need to recognize that there are a lot of other sources of information and incorporating them into your methodology will improve your coverage. (And hopefully also your findings.)
In the third part, Vickie describes a wide of vulnerability types that may be found in common web applications. Obviously, it is not possible to cover every vulnerability and edge case, but the vulnerabilities described cover the vast majority of findings that I have found or seen reported in web applications. 16 Chapters cover a wide variety of vulnerability classes – so many that it may feel overwhelming to newcomers, so I’d suggest picking a subset of classes to start testing for at first. This will give you time to get comfortable with the process and tooling for testing.
Chapter 17, which covers logic errors and broken access control, in particular, is one that I think all web developers should read. (In addition, of course, to bug bounty hunters.) These bugs are pervasive and essentially impossible for better frameworks, web application firewalls, or automated tooling to mitigate because they require an understanding of the underlying business logic in addition to the technical understanding of vulnerability classes.
The fourth, and final, part of this book collects what Vickie refers to as “Expert Techniques”. While they are an extension of other techniques to cover more surface, I think these can be applied even by those with less experience in the field. In particular, covering API and Android apps is a rather natural extension of web security, as most of these are just HTTP APIs with a nice facade on them. Fuzzing is a bit more advanced and further afield, but she provides a nice introduction to them in the final chapter of the book. These chapters do have a bit of a “supplemental” feel to them, and those brand new to security may wish to return to them after gaining some experience with the other vulnerabilities covered and the tooling involved.
I do recommend that more individuals looking to have success in bug bounty programs consider understanding APIs and mobile applications, as these attack surfaces seem to be far less covered, leading to more opportunities to be the first discoverer of a bug. It’s very nice to see that these are covered here, as bug bounty coverage is often “web only”.
This book does bear some similarities to No Starch’s own Real-World Bug Hunting, but it also stands its own ground. Real-World Bug Hunting focuses almost entirely just on the vulnerability classes, while Bug Bounty Bootcamp has a lot more content about automating reconnaisance, integrating a lifecycle for ongoing testing of the same properties, and supplementing your tooling with your own scripting and development. If you have the time, I can handily recommend reading both of these resources. If you’re only going to read one, and your predominant interest is success in Bug Bounties, I think Bug Bounty Bootcamp will do a better job of preparing you for that.
Readers who are interested in full-time roles doing security assessment as opposed to just bug bounties – such as penetration testers or application security engineers – may still find this book useful, but will want to supplement their approach with more traditional resources. A good compliment might be The Web Application Hacker’s Handbook. This is not a negative of the book (as it never claimed to be anything beyond the bug bounty space) but is still something for readers to be aware of depending on their personal goals and roles.
Bug Bounty Bootcamp is a great resource for those who want to participate in Bug Bounties because it not only teaches you about the technical aspects, but helps you develop a methodology and sustain your testing. Some technology knowledge is assumed, but it does a solid job of describing the relevant vulnerability types from first principles, so it can be a strong resource for those new to the security space. The writing style is clear and to the point.
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