Apple Offers $1 Million Reward for Anyone Who Can Hack an iPhone

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Apple is offering between $100,000 and $1 million for anyone who can hack an iPhone.  CHESNOT/GETTY IMAGES
Thomas Brewster

Thomas Brewster Forbes Staff Cybersecurity I cover crime, privacy and security in digital and physical forms

Apple has massively increased the amount it’s offering hackers for finding vulnerabilities in iPhones and Macs, up to $1 million. It’s by far the highest bug bounty on offer from any major tech company.

That’s up from $200,000, and in the fall the program will be open to all researchers. Previously only those on the company’s invite-only bug bounty program were eligible to receive rewards. 

As Forbes reported on Monday, Apple is also launching a Mac bug bounty, which was confirmed Thursday, but it’s also extending it to watchOS and its Apple TV operating system. The announcements came in Las Vegas at the Black Hat conference, where Apple’s head of security engineering Ivan Krstić gave a talk on iOS and macOS security.

Forbes also revealed on Monday that Apple was to give bug bounty participants “developer devices”—iPhones that let hackers dive further into iOS. They can, for instance, pause the processor to look at what’s happening with data in memory. Krstić confirmed the iOS Security Research Device program would be by application only. It will arrive next year.

$1 million for an iPhone hack

The full $1 million will go to researchers who can find a hack of the kernel—the core of iOS—with zero clicks required by the iPhone owner. Another $500,000 will be given to those who can find a “network attack requiring no user interaction.” There’s also a 50% bonus for hackers who can find weaknesses in software before it’s released.

Apple is increasing those rewards in the face of an increasingly profitable private market where hackers sell the same information to governments for vast sums.

As Maor Shwartz told Forbes, the cost of a single exploit (a program that uses vulnerabilities typically to take control of a computer or phone) can fetch as much as $1.5 millon. An exploit targeting WhatsApp where no clicks are required from the user, for instance, can be sold to a government agency for that much, though such tools are rare. Only one or two a year will be sold, from a pool of around 400 researchers who focus on such high-end hacking. “It’s really hard to research them and produce a working exploit,” he said.