Bug Bounty Training for Beginners: How to Become a Bug Bounty Hunter

Bug Bounty Training for Beginners: How to Become a Bug Bounty Hunter

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This ultimate guide to bug bounty training tools and resources can help you get started in the field or take your bug bounty game to the next level

Are you searching for the best resources on how to become a bug bounty hunter? We’ve searched high and low to bring you the ultimate guide of bug bounty training websites, tools, and other materials on how to hack and successfully join a bug bounty program. If you have no idea where to start but you are ready to learn, this article has everything you need — a list of bug bounty program trainings, eBooks, and websites for beginners.

What Is a Bug Bounty?

A bug bounty program allows hackers to receive compensation for reporting bugs, also known as vulnerabilities and possible exploits, in organizations’ hardware, firmware, and software. Most commonly, though, they allow organizations to use external resources to find and disclose vulnerabilities that exist within their sensitive applications.

The goal of this initiative is to prevent black-hat or grey-hat hackers from exploiting an organization for bugs found in applications that contain confidential information to the company or its customers. Over the years, bug bounty programs have grown exponentially to include large companies and government organizations.

For example, Google’s bug bounty program will pay you up to $31,337 if you report a critical security vulnerability in a Google service.

The first bug bounty program was released in 1983 for developers to hack Hunter & Ready’s Versatile Real-Time Executive Operating System. If a developer reported a bug, they would receive a Volkswagen Beetle (aka a VW “bug”) as a reward.

Most modern bug bounty programs pay cash rewards — you can receive rewards ranging from hundreds of dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars per disclosure. Although the industry is very competitive, there are even hackers who do this full-time.

Bug Bounty Tools for Beginners

Ready to try your hand at bug bounty hunting? Let’s get started with our list of bug bounty tools to transform you from a beginner to a hunter in a bug bounty program.  This list of bug bounty training resources includes tools for those who prefer to read, watch videos, take a course, practice hacking a website, and jump right into a bug bounty program.

Bug Bounty Training Books

Looking for a few books for bug bounty training? Here’s a couple of the best bug bounty books for you to start learning how to hack:

1. Ghost In The Wires: My Adventures as the World’s Most Wanted Hacker

Bug bounty training graphic: a screenshot of the book cover of "Ghost In The Wires"
Image source: Amazon.com.

This book is the most popular among bug bounty hunters and cybersecurity professionals for insight into the mind of a black-hat hacker. It is also a great starting point–you can learn how to think like a hacker by reading an interesting story rather than instructional material.

“Ghost In The Wires” is the story of Kevin Mitnick, one of the best computer break-in artists ever, who went on the run for hacking into the world’s biggest companies. His series of escapes led authorities and companies to reevaluate their current level of security. He’s now an ethical hacker who teaches companies how to secure their systems against unscrupulous hackers (like he used to be!)

2. The Web Application Hacker’s Handbook: Finding and Exploiting Security Flaws, 2nd Edition

bug bounty training graphic: a screenshot of the book cover for "The Web Application Hacker's Handbook"
Image source: Amazon.com.

Some people refer to this as the bible of web application hacking because it provides step-by-step strategies to attack (red team) and defend (blue team) web platforms. In “The Web Application Hacker’s Handbook: Finding and Exploiting Security Flaws, 2nd Edition,” you’ll learn about hacking certain types of technology and remoting frameworks.

As a bonus, there’s also a bug bounty website paired with the book’s content. This gives you an opportunity to apply everything you learn. As such, this book is a valuable resource for beginning hackers in particular.

3. Web Hacking 101: How to Make Money Hacking Ethically

Bug bounty training graphic: A screenshot of the ebook cover of Web Hacking 101
Image source: HackerOne.com.

Web Hacking 101 is an eBook that was developed by software security expert Peter Yaworski. His goal was to help the HackerOne community profit from their bug bounty hunting skills within a bug bounty program. Basically, this bug bounty tool will help you learn how to monetize your cybersecurity knowledge.

If you want to learn how to hack as a beginner for free, HackerOne makes this eBook available for free. Once you sign up or log into your free HackerOne account, you’ll receive the publication via email.

Bug Bounty Training Courses

1. Hacker101

In addition to the Web Hacking 101 eBook, HackerOne also offers a Hacker101 course for people who are interested in learning how to hack for free. This bug bounty course provides a great deal of video lessons and capture-the-flag challenges on the topic of web security.

2. Web Security Academy

Another highly regarded bug bounty course in the industry for learning how to hack as a beginner is PortSwigger’s Web Security Academy. This free training is provided by the creators of Burp Suite (a popular application security testing software) to help boost your career with interactive labs and the chance to learn from experts.

The team of bug bounty experts is led by the author of The Web Application Hacker’s Handbook. Just a few of the topics covered in this this training include:

  • HTTP host header attacks,
  • Web cache poisoning,
  • SQL injection, and
  • XXE injection (aka external entity injection).

To learn more about this course, check out the Portswigger Web Security Academy website.

3. SANS Cyber Security Skills Roadmap

A screenshot of the SANS Cyber Security Skills Roadmap website
Image source: SANS Institute Cyber Security Skills Roadmap website.

The SANS Cyber Security Skills Roadmap is an interactive resource that pairs users with 60+ courses that match their goals and skill levels.

The SANS Institute, a cybersecurity training organization, developed the roadmap to help learners navigate a series of courses that start with baseline skills, then move on to crucial skills for specialized roles. One of the first courses suggested is SEC504 Hacker Techniques, which will equip you with the knowledge to understand hackers’ strategies, find vulnerabilities, and change from defensive to offensive during an attack.

Note: Unlike the other resources listed here, these courses are not free.

Bug Bounty Websites

Once a beginner bug bounty hunter has read plenty of books and watched enough courses, it’s time to get in the field. After all, every technology professional needs real world applications to fully understand the concepts they learn. Bug bounty websites that you are legally able to hack is the next step to growing your cybersecurity skillset.

Here’s a list of some of the best hacker websites for beginners:

1. Google Gruyere

Google Gruyere is one of the most recommended bug bounty websites for beginners. It’s often referred to as “cheesy” because the website is full of vulnerabilities for people to learn how to hack. The bugs range from cross-site scripting (CSS) to denial-of-service issues.

What’s particularly useful is that this site is written in Python for hackers to learn via black box and white box testing.

2. HackThis!!

HackThis!! offers over 50 levels of difficulty so you can start as a bug bounty beginner. The goal of this site it to show how hacks, dumps, and defacements are accomplished. It also has an active community to give you help hacking and share important security news.

3. Hack The Box

This penetration testing lab is the perfect hacking site to advance your bug bounty knowledge as a beginner or pentest master. Hack The Box is for students, cybersecurity employees, and self-taught hackers to join in on one of their 127 challenges (or rent a private lab).

If you’re interested in a few more bug bounty websites to make sure you’re a well-rounded hacker, check out our other article on 13 Vulnerable Websites & Web Apps for Pen Testing and Research.

Other Bug Bounty Tools for Beginners

We hope you didn’t think a list of bug bounty books, courses, websites, and programs would be the end of your training. Let’s share our favorite bug bounty tools that don’t fit into those categories but are very powerful.

1. Pluralsight

If you decide to pursue a cybersecurity career at a company, Pluralsight is a great way to continue your learning as you receive projects. You can easily browse their library of Python, security fundamentals, and CompTIA Security+ lessons.

2. Hacktivity

Hacktivity will become one of your favorite tools as you navigate the bug bounty industry as a beginner. Just call this your VIP seat to the bug bounty game.

This tool, also by HackerOne, presents the latest hacker activity regarding bugs reported within bug bounty programs. Each Hacktivity news item will include the type of attack, the company website, and the bounty paid.

Check out the Hacktivity website for more information.

3. Shodan

If you have ever considered IoT (Internet of Things) as a field to become a hacker in, Shodan is a great place to start. It’s coined as the “world’s first search engine for Internet-connected devices” because you can use it to explore public IoT devices in your home or someone else’s across the world.

Just a warning: You might want to reconsider the technology you have in your home after seeing the results. Shodan crawls the internet to find Smart TVs, wind farms, etc. that are accessible to you or to hackers with bad intentions.

Bug Bounty Programs for Beginners

Now, you’ve really learned all you can on how to become a bug bounty hunter…what about bug bounty programs? This is the next step in your bug bounty training, to join the big leagues and flourish.

Here are a few examples of organizations that have good bug bounty programs:

You can find many more listed at hackerone.com or bugcrowd.com.

Ready to Hunt Bugs?

We hope the resources in this article will be a great resource for you as you learn how to become a bug bounty hunter. You now have the best cybersecurity toolkit to learn how to fight off malicious hackers and help organizations defend valuable assets. And considering that cyber attacks are on the rise globally, your skills are needed now more than ever.

About the author

Amara is a cybersecurity professional and entrepreneur with a passion for understanding how business and tech collide. In addition to graduating high school and college at age 16 and receiving her bachelor's degree in computer science at 19, Amara also completed multiple internships within the cybersecurity field.