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Microsoft today announced a new program called the “BlueHat Prize,” offering a total of more than $250,000 in cash and prizes to people who come up with innovative ways to defend computer systems from online attacks. It’s an interesting move intended to get security researchers and hackers of all stripes to focus more on broad-based solutions to computer security problems, and not as much on individual bugs in Windows or other programs.

Explains Matt Thomlinson, GM of Microsoft’s Trustworthy Computing Group, in a news release: “Our interest is to promote a focus on developing innovative solutions rather than discovering individual issues. We believe the BlueHat Prize can catalyze defensive efforts to help mitigate entire classes of attacks.”

Microsoft says any intellectual property generated for the contest will be retained by the contestants, to use as they wish, although there is a catch: Contestants must agree to license to Microsoft the technology associated with their submission, in perpetuity and without royalties.

The first year of the competition will focus on ways of preventing the exploitation of memory vulnerabilities. First prize is $200,000 and second is $50,000.

The company announced the initiative at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas. The winners will be announced at the same conference next year. See this page for all the rules and regulations.

In a nod to those teenagers hacking away in their basements, the contest is open to people as young as 14, as long as they have their parents’ permission.

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