‘Heartbleed Bug’ puts Web security at risk
The breakdown affects the encryption technology that is supposed to protect online accounts for emails, instant messaging and a wide range of electronic commerce.An alarming lapse in Internet security has exposed millions of passwords, credit card numbers and other sensitive bits of information to potential theft by computer hackers who may have been secretly exploiting the problem before its discovery.
The breakdown revealed this week affects the encryption technology that is supposed to protect online accounts for emails, instant messaging and a wide range of electronic commerce. Security researchers who uncovered the threat, known as “Heartbleed,” are particularly worried about the breach because it went undetected for more than two years.
Although there is now a way to close the security hole, there are still plenty of reasons to be concerned, said David Chartier, CEO of Codenomicon. A small team from the Finnish security firm diagnosed Heartbleed while working independently from another Google Inc. researcher who also discovered the threat.
“I don’t think anyone that had been using this technology is in a position to definitively say they weren’t compromised,” Chartier said. Chartier and other computer security experts are advising people to consider changing all their online passwords.
“I would change every password everywhere because it’s possible something was sniffed out,” said Wolfgang Kandek, chief technology officer for Qualys, a maker of security-analysis software. “You don’t know because an attack wouldn’t have left a distinct footprint.”
But changing the passwords won’t do any good, these experts said, until the affected services install the software released April 7 to fix the problem. That puts the onus on the Internet services affected by Heartbleed to alert their users to the potential risks and let them know when the Heartbleed fix has been installed so they can change their passwords.
“This is going to be difficult for the average guy in the streets to understand, because it’s hard to know who has done what and what is safe,” Chartier said. The U.S. government’s Department of Homeland Security also advised businesses to review their servers to see if they were using vulnerable versions a type of software known as OpenSSL.
Yahoo Inc., which boasts more than 800 million users worldwide, is among the Internet services that could be potentially hurt by Heartbleed. “We’re focused on providing the most secure experience possible for our users worldwide and are continuously working to protect our users’ data,” Yahoo said.
Heartbleed exposed a weakness in encryption at the same time that major Internet services such as Yahoo, Google, Microsoft and Facebook are expanding their usage of technology to reassure the users about the sanctity of their personal data. The additional security measures are being adopted in response to mounting concerns about the U.S. government’s surveillance of online activities and other communications.