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VeriSign’s iDefense Labs has placed an $8,000 bounty on remote code execution holes in Windows Vista and Internet Explorer 7.

The Reston, Va., security intelligence outfit threw out the monetary reward to hackers as part of a challenge program aimed at luring researchers to its controversial pay-for-flaw VCP (Vulnerability Contributor Program).

The launch of the latest hacking challenge comes less than a month after researchers at Trend Micro discovered Vista flaws being hawked on underground sites at $50,000 a pop and illustrates the growth of the market for information on software vulnerabilities.

iDefense isn’t the only brand-name player in the market. 3Com’s TippingPoint runs a similar program, called Zero Day Initiative, that pays researchers who agree to give up exclusive rights to advance notification of unpublished vulnerabilities or exploit code.

The companies act as intermediaries in the disclosure process—handling the process of coordinating with the affected vendor—and use the vulnerability information to beef up protection mechanisms in their own security software, which is sold to third parties.

“Both Microsoft Internet Explorer and Microsoft Windows dominate their respective markets, and it is not surprising that the decision to update to the current release of Internet Explorer 7.0 and/or Windows Vista is fraught with uncertainty. Primary in the minds of IT security professionals is the question of vulnerabilities that may be present in these two groundbreaking products,” iDefense said in a note announcing the bounty.

The company said the motive of the challenge is to “help assuage this uncertainty.”

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The rules are straightforward: iDefense will pay $8,000 for each submitted vulnerability that allows an attacker to remotely exploit and execute arbitrary code on either of the two Microsoft products.

Only the first submission for a given vulnerability will qualify for the payout, and iDefense will award no more than six payments of $8,000.

“If more than six submissions qualify, the earliest six submissions (based on submission date and time) will receive the award,” the company said, stressing that the iDefense team at VeriSign will be responsible for making the final determination of whether or not a submission qualifies for the award.

To qualify, the vulnerability “must be remotely exploitable and must allow arbitrary code execution in a default installation of Vista or IE 7.0. It [must] also exist in the latest version of the two products, with all available patches/upgrades applied.”

Flaws in release candidate or beta versions do not qualify, and iDefense’s rules make it clear that the vulnerability “must be original and not previously disclosed either publicly or to the vendor by another party.”

In addition to the $8,000 award for the flaw, iDefense will pay between $2,000 and $4,000, based on reliability, quality, readability and documentation, for working exploit code that exploits the submitted vulnerability. “The arbitrary code execution must be of an uploaded non-malicious payload. Submission of a malicious payload is grounds for disqualification from this phase of the challenge,” the company said.

Microsoft typically frowns on the broker market for flaws in its products. “We do not believe that offering compensation for vulnerability information is the best way [researchers] can help protect customers,” the company said during the last iDefense hacking challenge.

“Microsoft believes that responsible disclosure, which involves making sure that an update is available from software vendors the same day the vulnerability is first broadly known, is the best way to protect the end user,” a Microsoft spokesperson, in Redmond, Wash., said at that time.

Check out’s Security Center for the latest security news, reviews and analysis. And for insights on security coverage around the Web, take a look at Ryan Naraine’s eWEEK Security Watch blog.