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Cisco Employee Earns Security Bug Bounty – 1 Million United Miles!

If you had a million airline miles, where would you travel?

Kyle Lovett, a security penetration tester with the Advanced Services Security Team is asking himself that very question right now. That’s because his United Airlines mile bank is overflowing, thanks to a security bug he found through a bug bounty United Airlines was offering.

Kyle's United Miles

Kyle Lovett, security penetration tester at Cisco, has a million miles in his United app, thanks to a bug bounty the airline initiated.

Bug bounties are nothing new, they’ve been around for a while, usually offered by big tech companies. It’s an opportunity for white-hat “hackers” (those using their powers only for good) to find security vulnerabilities for rewards. United is the first airline to offer a bug bounty.

Kyle lives and breathes security. He says he’s been “breaking things” since he was a kid. It’s a part of his day-job, but also something he enjoys in his free time. Normally, he doesn’t participate in bug-bounties, but in the case of United, he was intrigued.

“Sometimes, a company will recognize the work with a good reward,” Kyle says. “What caught my eye [with the United bug bounty] is that they were giving away miles. But they were significant miles. So I sat down one Saturday morning and got to work.”

Kyle Lovett

Kyle Lovett, security penetration tester at Cisco.

Kyle got to work for sure. In a few hours, he’d made several different submissions. One of those submissions was significant enough to get United’s almost immediate attention. He’s under agreement not to say what the bug was, but it was big enough to earn the largest prize in the bug bounty – he’s now in the million mile club.

“United reached out to me with questions and clarifications,” he explains. “We went back and forth over the course of a week, and they had it fixed in a few days. Then they said ‘Congratulations! Here are a million miles.’ They were genuinely concerned about the bug and very professional.”

He opened his United app, and saw the seven-figure number. A million miles means approximately 40 domestic round-trip flights, 20 round-trip flights to Europe, or eight first-class trips. Here’s the kicker. He still has additional submissions that might earn him MORE miles.

How will Kyle put them to use? He’s already bringing his mom and brother out from Virginia to visit him in California. His job gives him a lot travel opportunities as well, so he’s a little stumped right now.

“I’ve always wanted to go to East Asia or the Southern Pacific. Not for the scenery (although that’s nice). I’m more intrigued to see the culture,” he says. “But I would like to give at least one ticket away for someone who might really need it, maybe for medical treatment or they can’t afford to get home.”

How’d Cisco get so lucky to have such a great security tester on the team?

“The Internet of Everything is near and dear to my heart, especially the security around it,” Kyle says. “There is such a large wealth of people to reach out to in all different areas. And the culture and atmosphere here is genuine. I’ve not met one person who works here that doesn’t enjoy what they do!”

Want to join Kyle and the Cisco Security team? See open security jobs here.

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19 Comments

  1. wow. congratulations Kyle

  2. WOW awesome, You have to visit Indonesia. Indonesia is great country.

  3. Travel to the Philippines. You'll have 7000+ islands to see the culture. :)

  4. Vulnerability Research, Penetration test are not easy and require many skill. Great job,

  5. Congratulations :-)

  6. Congratz Kyle! :)

  7. Congratulations to Kyle and the entire organization. If I could add anything it's just to say "and keep up the good work" to Kyle, and to all he researchers and practitioners who identify and report security flaws, bugs, vulnerabilities, and risks as this is the collective group that does this type of work with passion and personal achievement often times the only reward they reap from countless hours. (Insert secret $handshake)..

  8. Hi Kyle, I totally agree with you, that people get motivated by bounties, if there was no bounty the vulnerability could go unfixed for years until some black hat abuses the vulnerability for $$$. Was the bug you found in the framework that could be re-used elsewhere or was it only UA specific? I think that public disclosure(agreed with UA) would help the community to make Internet more secure and along with the report it would inspire other starting security researchers to join bug bounties and help to secure the Internet. Robin

    • Hi Robin, In all I turned in 14 security vulnerabilities to United, and they just confirmed 2 additional ones; one of which is probably the same miles value or close to the first one. The bugs in themselves, while common issues, were distinct to United and their apps. I'd be happy to discuss the bugs if United decides it's ok after the other fixes go in, though I think how and why I discovered them, and not necessarily the individual bugs would be a much richer topic within the info community. I think it's safe to say that with the internet growing older, and many sites now having an online presence reaching perhaps as far back as 15-20 years, there are definite takeaways about how and why it's important for site owners to take as much care decommissioning old sites with the same rigor that new sites are built in their place. When it comes to web security, the past can most definitely come back to haunt.

  9. Thank you everyone for the very kind comments! Im still looking for someone that really needs a trip to donate miles to them if anyone hears of someone. Kyle

  10. Wow! Thanks to you Kyle, I will sleep more soundly on my upcoming United flight to San Jose. I love the idea of the bug bounty! Keep up the good work.

  11. Congrats to Kyle, using the powers for good !! :)

  12. Kyle did do some pretty awesome work! Thanks for your comments!

  13. Congrats! Kyle. You deserve it.

  14. Really an inspiring story. Congratulations to Kyle!!

  15. Awesome work!!! Go Cisco

  16. answer of the question is. travel to Jogja Indonesia is my dream

    • I'm sure Kyle is taking suggestions for where to travel. :) Indonesia does sound pretty nice. :)

  17. Well done! cool