Bug Bounty Hunting for Beginners: A Step-by-Step Guide

Bug bounty hunting is an exciting and profitable opportunity for cybersecurity enthusiasts to use their skills and earn rewards. For beginners interested in exploring the world of bug bounty hunting, this article serves as a comprehensive guide. It will explain everything you need to know to get started.

What is Bug Bounty Hunting for Beginners?

Bug bounty hunting is a process of discovering and reporting security vulnerabilities in software applications, websites, or platforms. This practice is a form of crowdsourcing, where organizations offer rewards or other incentives to ethical hackers who can identify and disclose security flaws in their systems. By doing so, organizations can proactively address vulnerabilities before they can be exploited by attackers. In bug bounty programs, ethical hackers can use a variety of techniques to test the security of a system, including penetration testing, vulnerability scanning, and manual testing. This approach helps organizations improve their security posture while also promoting responsible and ethical behaviour in the security community.

  • What it is: Bug bounties are programs run by companies where they offer rewards for researchers who discover security vulnerabilities in their systems.
  • Why it’s important: These vulnerabilities can be exploited by hackers to steal data, disrupt operations, or cause other damage. By finding and reporting them responsibly, bug bounty hunters help companies fix these issues before they become a problem.


Bug bounty programs are initiatives launched by companies and organizations to encourage cybersecurity researchers to find and report vulnerabilities in their systems. These programs typically offer monetary rewards, recognition, or other incentives for valid bug submissions.


Bug bounty programs play a crucial role in improving the overall security posture of organizations by identifying and addressing vulnerabilities before they can be exploited. They provide an additional layer of defence against cyber threats and help companies safeguard sensitive data and user privacy.

Bug Bounty Hunting for Beginners
Bug Bounty Hunting for Beginners

Getting Started

To embark on your bug bounty-hunting journey, it’s essential to understand the fundamentals and equip yourself with the necessary skills and tools.

  • Choose Your Platform: Bug bounty platforms connect ethical hackers with organizations offering bounties. Popular platforms include HackerOne, Bugcrowd, and Intigriti.
  • Start with Beginner Programs: Many platforms offer programs specifically designed for newcomers. These programs often focus on lower-risk vulnerabilities but still offer rewards to get you started.
  • Focus on Learning: Bug bounty hunting is a continuous learning process. There are many online resources, tutorials, and communities dedicated to helping you hone your skills.

Understanding Vulnerabilities

Before diving into bug hunting, familiarize yourself with common security vulnerabilities such as cross-site scripting (XSS), SQL injection, and remote code execution. Gain a thorough understanding of how these vulnerabilities can be exploited and their potential impact on the target system.

  • Growing Market: The bug bounty market is expected to reach a whopping $46.4 billion by 2027, according to a report by MarketsandMarkets [source: Market Research on Bug Bounty Hunting]. This signifies the increasing importance organizations place on finding and patching vulnerabilities.
  • Vulnerability Payouts: In 2022, the average bounty awarded per vulnerability was $3,800, with some critical vulnerabilities fetching over $100,000 [source: HackerOne Bug Bounty Report 2022]. This highlights the potential financial rewards for skilled bug bounty hunters.
  • Vulnerability Types: Here’s a breakdown of the most common vulnerabilities found through bug bounties, according to HackerOne’s report (percentages may vary across different reports):
    • Cross-Site Scripting (XSS): 31%
    • Injection flaws (like SQL injection): 22%
    • Security Misconfigurations: 13%
    • Broken Access Control: 11%
    • Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF): 9%

Understanding Vulnerabilities:

  • What is a Vulnerability? A vulnerability is a weakness in a system, software, or application that an attacker can exploit to gain unauthorized access, steal data, or disrupt operations.
  • OWASP Top 10: The Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) maintains a list of the ten most critical web application security risks [source: OWASP Top 10]. This list serves as a valuable resource for bug bounty hunters to understand the vulnerabilities they should prioritize. Some examples from the OWASP Top 10 include XSS, SQL Injection, and Broken Access Control, which we saw dominate the vulnerability payout data above.

Familiarizing with Bug Bounty Platforms

Explore various bug bounty platforms such as HackerOne, Bugcrowd, and Synack. These platforms serve as marketplaces where companies host their bug bounty programs, allowing researchers to participate and submit bug reports in exchange for rewards.

Essential Skills

To succeed in bug bounty hunting, you need to develop certain skills and knowledge areas.

  • Unearthing vulnerabilities: Programming languages like JavaScript, Python, and PHP are the building blocks of most web applications. By understanding these languages, bug bounty hunters can analyze code, scrutinize functionalities, and identify weaknesses that might harbour vulnerabilities. A study by Positive Technologies revealed that a whopping 70% of web application vulnerabilities stemmed from code flaws [source needed]. Without basic programming knowledge, it’s challenging to delve into the application’s inner workings and spot these weaknesses.
  • Crafting PoCs (Proof of Concepts): Simply reporting a vulnerability isn’t enough. Bug bounty hunters need to provide a Proof of Concept (PoC) that demonstrates how to exploit the vulnerability. Often, this involves writing a small script or code snippet. For instance, if a hunter discovers an XSS (Cross-Site Scripting) vulnerability, they might use JavaScript to showcase how an attacker could inject malicious code.
  • Automating Tasks: Bug bounty hunting can involve repetitive tasks like scanning different URLs or probing for specific vulnerabilities. Basic programming skills empower hunters to automate these tasks using scripts, freeing up valuable time for deeper analysis and exploitation crafting. Reports suggest that security automation can improve efficiency by up to 80%, highlighting the significant time-saving benefit.

Basic Programming Knowledge

Having proficiency in programming languages such as Python, JavaScript, and PHP can significantly enhance your bug-hunting capabilities. Understanding how applications are built and how they handle user input is essential for identifying vulnerabilities.

If you’re new to programming, don’t worry! Here’s a roadmap to get you started:

  • Begin with Languages like Python or JavaScript: These languages are known for their beginner-friendly syntax and vast online resources. Python is particularly well-suited for automation tasks, while JavaScript is ubiquitous in web development.
  • Online Courses and Tutorials: There’s a wealth of free and paid online resources available. Platforms like Coursera, edX, and Codecademy offer interactive courses specifically designed for beginners.
  • Practice and Experimentation: The best way to solidify your programming knowledge is through hands-on practice. Look for bug bounty programs that allow practice environments and experiment with your newfound skills in a safe space.

By honing your basic programming abilities, you’ll unlock a powerful toolkit for successful bug bounty hunting. Remember, the journey starts with a single line of code!

Understanding Web Technologies

Familiarize yourself with web technologies such as HTML, CSS, and HTTP protocols. Knowledge of how web servers, databases, and client-server interactions work will aid in identifying security flaws.

  • Understanding: These are the building blocks of web pages. HTML structures the content, CSS handles styling, and JavaScript adds interactivity.
  • Importance: By understanding these languages, bug hunters can analyze code for vulnerabilities like Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) which injects malicious scripts into web pages. According to a Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report (2023), XSS continues to be a prevalent attack vector, featuring 43% of web application breaches.

Tools of the Trade

Several tools can streamline the bug-hunting process and help you identify vulnerabilities more effectively.

Burp Suite

Burp Suite

Burp Suite is a popular web vulnerability scanner that provides various tools for web application security testing. It allows you to intercept and manipulate HTTP requests, analyze responses, and identify potential security issues.

Why Burp Suite?

  • Industry Standard: In a HackerOne report, a whopping 89% of ethical hackers voted Burp Suite as the tool that aids them most during bug bounties.
  • Targeted Approach: Burp Suite acts as a web proxy, allowing you to intercept traffic between your browser and the target web application. This lets you analyze and manipulate individual requests for focused testing.

Bug Bounty Workflow with Burp Suite:

  1. Proxy and Capture: Configure your browser to use Burp Suite as its proxy. As you interact with the target application, Burp Suite captures all the HTTP requests and responses.
  2. Analyze and Enumerate: Burp Suite’s Site Map visualizes the application’s structure, letting you see all the captured requests. You can sort and filter them to identify areas for potential vulnerabilities. Let’s say you filter by requests with parameters (data you submit in forms). These are prime targets for injection attacks, a common bug bounty-hunting technique.
  3. Intruder for Automation: Burp Suite’s Intruder tool lets you automate attacks. You can define how to modify captured requests (e.g., injecting malicious code) and send them in rapid succession, uncovering vulnerabilities.
  4. Exploit and Report: Once you identify a vulnerability, you can use Burp Suite to craft a proof-of-concept exploit to demonstrate its impact. Finally, you report your findings to the program following responsible disclosure guidelines.

Real-world Example:

Imagine a bug bounty program for a social media platform. Using Burp Suite, you capture a request where you update your profile picture. By modifying the request parameters in Intruder with an unreasonably large image size, you might discover a vulnerability leading to a denial-of-service (DoS) attack (crashing the server). This could be a valuable bug bounty report.



OWASP ZAP (Zed Attack Proxy) is an open-source web application security scanner. It helps in finding vulnerabilities like cross-site scripting (XSS), SQL injection, and more. ZAP provides both automated and manual testing capabilities.

Why ZAP for Bug Bounties?

Here’s why ZAP is a popular choice for bug bounty hunters:

  • Free and powerful: Compared to paid tools, ZAP offers a robust feature set for vulnerability detection at no cost.
  • Open-source advantage: Access to the source code allows for deeper analysis and customization during testing.
  • User-friendly interface: ZAP provides a clear interface for manual testing and interacting with captured traffic.
  • Automated scanners: ZAP integrates with various automated scanners that can identify common vulnerabilities quickly.

Bug Bounty Hunting with ZAP – Examples:

Here are some ways bug bounty hunters use ZAP to uncover vulnerabilities:

  1. Intercepting and Analyzing Traffic:
  • A bug bounty hunter targets a program that offers rewards for finding Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) vulnerabilities.
  • They use ZAP to intercept the traffic between their browser and the program’s web application.
  • By analyzing the intercepted requests and responses, they can identify instances where user input is not properly sanitized, potentially leading to XSS.



Nmap is a versatile network scanning tool used for discovering hosts and services on a computer network. It can be handy for reconnaissance and identifying potential attack vectors.

Scenario: Imagine you’re testing a bug bounty program for a company with the domain “target.com”. Here’s how Nmap can aid your hunt:

  1. Initial Scan:
    • Run a basic scan using nmap -sT target.com. This performs a TCP SYN scan, identifying open ports.
    Output (Example):Starting Nmap 7.91 ( https://nmap.org ) at 2024-03-26 01:31 EST PORT STATE SERVICE VERSION 22 open ssh OpenSSH 8.2 (protocol 2.0) 80 open http Apache httpd 2.4.41 ((Debian)) 443 open https unknown
  2. Service Version Detection:
    • The scan reveals open ports (22, 80, 443) and services (SSH, http, https). Knowing service versions is crucial. Let’s use the -sV flag to identify them:
    nmap -sV -p-T 22,80,443 target.com This scans these specific ports with version detection. Potential Output:... (previous output) ... 80 open http Apache httpd 2.4.41 ((Debian)) - potentially vulnerable to CVE-2020-1388 (directory traversal) 443 open https Apache httpd 2.4.41 ((Debian)) - TLS version check needed for further vulnerabilities
  3. Script Automation:
    • Nmap Scripting Engine (NSE) automates tasks. The http-vuln-* script category checks for web server vulnerabilities. Let’s run:
    nmap --script http-vuln-*.nse -p 80 target.com This scans port 80 (http) with relevant NSE scripts. Example Output:... (previous output) ... | http-vuln-cve2020-1388: Detected potential directory traversal vulnerability (CVE-2020-1388)

Analysis and Reporting:

  • The scan identified a potential directory traversal vulnerability (CVE-2020-1388) in Apache HTTP 2.4.41. You can research this CVE to confirm and exploit it in a controlled manner (proof-of-concept).
  • Check for patches or workarounds for the identified vulnerability.
  • Report your findings to the bug bounty program with clear steps to reproduce the issue.

Reporting Vulnerabilities

Once you’ve identified a security vulnerability, it’s crucial to report it responsibly.

Responsible Disclosure

Follow the guidelines provided by the bug bounty program for reporting vulnerabilities. Ensure that you provide clear and detailed information about the issue and refrain from exploiting it for malicious purposes.

  • Always check for a bug bounty program before testing a system.
  • Respect the organization’s guidelines. Some areas may be off-limits for testing.
  • Maintain confidentiality. Don’t share vulnerability details publicly before the organization fixes it.
  • Act ethically. Don’t exploit vulnerabilities for personal gain.

Rewards and Recognition

Successful bug hunters can earn substantial monetary rewards, receive recognition from the security community, and even land job opportunities in cybersecurity.

  • Bounty Payouts: HackerOne reports the median bounty awarded in 2023 was $3,000, with some reaching over $100,000 for critical vulnerabilities.
  • Response Times: Organizations aim to respond quickly to reports. Bugcrowd data suggests an average first response within 24 hours.

Ethical Considerations

While bug hunting can be rewarding, it’s essential to adhere to ethical guidelines and legal regulations.

Respect for Privacy:

  • Data Breach Cost: According to IBM’s Cost of a Data Breach Report 2023, the global average cost of a data breach in 2023 was $4.35 million.
  • Ethical Obligation: Bug bounty hunters should never access or download sensitive data beyond what’s necessary to demonstrate the vulnerability. This protects the organization’s information and minimizes potential damage.

Avoiding Harm and Destructive Testing:

  • Accidental Denial-of-Service (DoS): A 2020 study by Neustar Security Services (“Global DDoS Attacks in 2020: A Half-Decade in Review”) found that the average cost of a DDoS attack was $102,000 per hour.
  • Ethical Testing Methods: Bug bounty hunters should avoid techniques that could disrupt normal system operations or cause data loss. Testing should be conducted within program-specified boundaries.


Bug bounty hunting offers an exciting opportunity for cybersecurity enthusiasts to contribute to the security of online platforms while earning rewards and recognition. By equipping yourself with the necessary skills, tools, and ethical considerations, you can embark on a fulfilling bug-hunting journey.


  1. What is the difference between bug bounty hunting and penetration testing? Bug bounty hunting involves discovering and reporting vulnerabilities in exchange for rewards, while penetration testing is a comprehensive security assessment conducted by professionals to identify weaknesses in a system.
  2. Are bug bounty programs legal? Yes, bug bounty programs are legal initiatives launched by organizations to improve their cybersecurity posture by incentivizing ethical hackers to find and report vulnerabilities.
  3. How much money can I earn from bug bounty hunting? Earnings from bug bounty hunting can vary widely depending on the severity and impact of the reported vulnerabilities. Some successful bug hunters have earned substantial rewards, while others may receive smaller payouts for less critical issues.
  4. Do I need formal cybersecurity training to start bug bounty hunting? While formal cybersecurity training can be beneficial, it’s not necessarily a requirement to start bug bounty hunting. Many successful bug hunters are self-taught enthusiasts who have acquired skills through hands-on experience and online resources.
  5. Is bug bounty hunting only for experienced hackers? Bug bounty hunting is open to individuals of all skill levels, including beginners. While experienced hackers may have an advantage due to their technical expertise, beginners can also participate and learn from the process while honing their skills.