Heartbleed Bug – what is it and how does it affect you

I just spent several hours changing my passwords. Why? Because of this:

heartbleed

The Heartbleed Bug is a serious vulnerability in the popular OpenSSL cryptographic software library. This weakness allows stealing the information protected, under normal conditions, by the SSL/TLS encryption used to secure the Internet. SSL/TLS provides communication security and privacy over the Internet for applications such as web, email, instant messaging IM and some virtual private networks VPNs.

The Heartbleed bug allows anyone on the Internet to read the memory of the systems protected by the vulnerable versions of the OpenSSL software. This compromises the secret keys used to identify the service providers and to encrypt the traffic, the names and passwords of the users and the actual content. This allows attackers to eavesdrop on communications, steal data directly from the services and users and to impersonate services and users.

via Heartbleed Bug.

For businesses and institutions that have their own websites and servers (think banks, financial institutions, merchants from the majors like Amazon to the smaller online businesses), this is an

EXTREMELY Serious OpenSSL Bug

OpenSSL versions 1.0.1 through 1.0.1f contain a flaw in its implementation of the TLS/DTLS heartbeat functionality (RFC6520). This flaw allows an attacker to retrieve private memory of an application that uses the vulnerable OpenSSL libssl library in chunks of up to 64k at a time. Note that an attacker can repeatedly leverage the vulnerability to increase the chances that a leaked chunk contains the intended secrets.

via Vulnerability Note VU##720951 OpenSSL heartbeat extension read overflow discloses sensitive information Companies affected are listed on the above website, and include Amazon, Google and IBM.  I was alerted to this by way of Karl Denninger at Market-Ticker who says

This is extremely serious folks.

If your systems are vulnerable to this and Internet-facing you must assume that the private keys involved in your SSL-enabled applications have been compromised and are no longer secret.  This means that your site can be trivially spoofed and will appear to be legitimate to a client connecting to it even though it is not.

This is very, very bad.  You cannot simply upgrade OpenSSL and be done.  You must also either revoke and have re-issued or revoke and re-issue yourself all keys that were formerly issued and potentially exposed.  In addition the public CAs may be impacted as well since they have internet-facing services, which means that their keys may not be secure either.

This is truly major. Merchants and banks, to name just the most obvious, use SSL to secure transactions and other private transfers of data. From what I can gather, there is no way to know if the company’s servers have been hacked or not. But most will have to assume that their keys have been compromised. From the heartbleed.com website:

Exploitation of this bug leaves no traces of anything abnormal happening to the logs…

Am I affected by the bug?

You are likely to be affected either directly or indirectly. OpenSSL is the most popular open source cryptographic library and TLS (transport layer security) implementation used to encrypt traffic on the Internet. Your popular social site, your company’s site, commerce site, hobby site, site you install software from or even sites run by your government might be using vulnerable OpenSSL. Many of online services use TLS to both to identify themselves to you and to protect your privacy and transactions. You might have networked appliances with logins secured by this buggy implementation of the TLS. Furthermore you might have client side software on your computer that could expose the data from your computer if you connect to compromised services.

How widespread is this?

Most notable software using OpenSSL are the open source web servers like Apache and nginx. The combined market share of just those two out of the active sites on the Internet was over 66% according to Netcraft’s April 2014 Web Server Survey. Furthermore OpenSSL is used to protect for example email servers (SMTP, POP and IMAP protocols), chat servers (XMPP protocol), virtual private networks (SSL VPNs), network appliances and wide variety of client side software. Fortunately many large consumer sites are saved by their conservative choice of SSL/TLS termination equipment and software. Ironically smaller and more progressive services or those who have upgraded to latest and best encryption will be affected most. Furthermore OpenSSL is very popular in client software and somewhat popular in networked appliances which have most inertia in getting updates.

Time to change those passwords. (For my posts on one password management program, click here.)


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