What to make of Heartbleed? 10 Apr 2014Posted by Tony Law in Impact of IT, IT is business, IT marketplace, ITasITis, Social media, Tech Watch, Technorati.
Tags: Heartbleed, OpenSSL
I watched the BBC News report last night about the security hole in Open SSL. With its conclusion that everyone should change all their passwords, now … and the old chestnut that you should keep separate passwords for every service you use, never write them down, and so on. Thankfully by this morning common sense is beginning to prevail. The Guardian passes on advice to check if services have been patched first; and offer a link to a tool that will check a site for you.
First, as they say, other Secure Socket Layer implementations are available. While a lot of secure web connections do rely on Open SSL, it’s not by any means universal.
Second, as always, dig behind the news. As Techcrunch did. This is the first vulnerability to have its own website and “cool logo”; this was launched by Codenomicon in Finland which started by creating notes for its own internal use and then took what it calls a “Bugs 2.0″ approach to put their information out there. I remember doing something similar way back in Year 2000 days. Incidentally, the Open SSL report (very brief) credits Google Security for discovering the bug. It also identifies the versions which are vulnerable. (There’s a note there that says that if users can’t upgrade to the fixed version, they can recompile Open SSL with -DOPENSSL_NO_HEARTBEATS which, I’m guessing, gives a clue as to the naming of the bug.)
If you want real information, then, go to Heartbleed.com. The Codenomicon Q&A is posted there. In brief: this is not a problem with the specification of SSL/TLS; it’s an implementation bug in OpenSSL. It has been around a long time, but there’s no evidence of significant exploitation. A fix is already available, but needs to be rolled out.
What was clear, too, is that the BBC reporter (and some others) don’t understand the Open Source process. The Guardian asserts that “anyone can update” the code, and leads readers to suppose that someone can maliciously insert a vulnerability. Conspiracy theories suggest that this might even be part of the NSA’s attack on internet security. But of course that ain’t the case. Yes, anyone can join an Open Source project: but code updates don’t automatically get put out there. Bugs can get through, just as they can in commercial software: but testing and versioning is a pretty rigorous process.
Also, this is a server-side problem not an end-user issue. So yes, change your passwords on key services that handle your critical resources if you’re worried but it might be worth, first, checking whether they’re likely to be using Open SSL. Your bank probably isn’t. There’s a useful list of possibly vulnerable services on Mashable (Facebook: change it; LinkedIn: no need; and so on)
And what do you do about passwords? We use so many online services and accounts that unless you have a systematic approach to passwords you’ll never cope. Personally, I have a standard, hopefully unguessable password I use for all low-criticality services; another, much stronger, for a small handful of critical and really personal ones; and a system which makes it fairly easy to recover passwords for a range of intermediate sites (rely on their Reset Password facility and keep a record of when this has been last used). But also, for online purchases, I use a separate credit card with a deliberately low credit limit. Don’t just rely on technology!
• Heartbleed, The First Security Bug With A Cool Logo, TechCrunch, 9 Apr 2014
• Heartbleed bug, website from Codenomicon (Finland) – use this site for onward references to official vulnerability reports and other sources
• OpenSSL project
• The Heartbleed Hit List, Mashable, 9 Apr 2014
• Heartbleed: don’t rush to update passwords, security experts warn, Alex Hearn, The Guardian, 9 Apr 2014
• Heartbleed bug: Public urged to reset all passwords, Rory Cellan-Jones (main report), BBC, 9 Apr 2014
• Test (your) server for Heartbleed, service from Filippo Valsorda as referenced in The Guardian. I’m unclear why this service is registered in the British Indian Ocean Territory (.io domain) since Filippo’s bio says he is currently attending “hacker school in NYC”. On your own head be it.