3 Larger Lessons From Heartbleed

Sara Peters, Editor in Chief | 4/10/2014 | 21 comments

Sara Peters
The race is on to restore trust in the very security tools that are used to ensure online trust. Websites, applications, and services are hastening to patch Heartbleed, a flaw in the OpenSSL library.

As described on Dark Reading, "If exploited, the bug leaks the contents of the memory from the server to the client and vice versa, potentially exposing passwords and other sensitive data and, most alarmingly, the SSL server's private key." More than a half-million servers are exposed to the vulnerability and it can be used to compromise clients too.

So, read all the documents I linked to. Then update to OpenSSL version 1.0.1g, which was issued April 7 with the bug fixed. Install any updates issued by applications or services that use OpenSSL (open-source operating systems, email services, VPNs, websites that use SSL, Google apps, Amazon Web services, and more). Talk to your SSL certificate authorities about replacing your SSL certs. Change encryption keys. Change passwords. Once you're done doing that, there are a few other broader issues to ponder:

1. Online trust is not trustworthy. I have raged about my quarrels with SSL many times before on E2. It's been hacked, cracked, falsified, and circumvented. The entire process of issuing SSL certificates is, in my opinion, a bit loosey-goosey. And perhaps worst of all, people seem to put more trust in it than it ever deserved. Heartbleed is just another hit on an already beaten and bloodied tool. To be fair, this is not a vulnerability in the SSL/TLS protocol itself, but rather an implementation error in the OpenSSL library. Regardless, it is another busted piece of the whole broken down online trust machine.

2. Open-source does not necessarily equal vulnerability free. There has always been a debate in the security community over whether proprietary software or open-source software are more secure. The argument for open-source is that when everyone has a chance to look at the code, it's far more likely that all vulnerabilities in the code will be found early and fixed quickly. Heartbleed is an example of the open-source community being slow on the uptake. From The Register:

"This issue is a timely reminder that all software can contain security vulnerabilities," wrote Brian Honan, the infosec consultant who founded and heads up the Republic of Ireland's Computer Security Incident Response Team, in an edition of the SANS Institute NewsBites newsletter. "Simply because the source code of Open Source software can be reviewed by anyone does not mean they will know how to look for security vulnerabilities or indeed detect them."

3. Proof-of-concept exploit code might do more harm than good. Maybe it makes no difference. Maybe bad guys are so good and quick at writing exploits that a proof-of-concept written by a good guy only saves them a few minutes. Maybe PoCs are really valuable to security professionals, because vulnerable organizations won't take vulnerabilities seriously if they aren't shown hard proof that they can be compromised.

Maybe, maybe not. We do know that proof-of-concept exploits of Heartbleed were made public and we know that attacks are already underway. Were organized criminal organizations and nation-states already quietly exploiting this vulnerability for the past two years with exploit code they wrote all by themselves? It's hard to say, because unfortunately, exploitation of the bug leaves no traces. (Security companies only know that attacks are happening now, because they're detecting malicious actors scanning for the flaw and conducting brute-force attacks.) Nevertheless, security companies are advising customers to assume that this bug has been exploited before.

What do you think? Does Heartbleed change your opinions on the security of open-source tools? Do you think that publishing proof-of-concept exploit code is ethical? Do you still feel safer using SSL than you do without it? Do you feel safe now, knowing that Google and Amazon have patched their systems? Let us know in the comments below.

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MDMConsult   3 Larger Lessons From Heartbleed   5/9/2014 4:30:22 PM
Re: On the lookout
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.
The_Phil   3 Larger Lessons From Heartbleed   4/28/2014 9:40:49 PM
Re: On the lookout
It's a vicious cycle and in most cases, the bad guys are ahead. It's just something to always keep in mind when doing anything on a digital device.
kstaron   3 Larger Lessons From Heartbleed   4/28/2014 3:25:14 PM
On the lookout
I wish I could feel more secure with this type of stuff. But the scammers are always going to be out there looking for the next exploit. We have to rely on what ools we have even if they aren't the best. at least until something better comes out.
singlemud   3 Larger Lessons From Heartbleed   4/28/2014 3:04:55 PM
Re: Part of software life
Even with all the security flaws, We still can not live without SSL. With all the security measures in place, we can prevent good mind from hacking, although we can not prevent evil mind no matter how good our system.
MDMConsult   3 Larger Lessons From Heartbleed   4/21/2014 8:14:08 AM
Re: Part of software life
Right. The company stated that some of their products contain the "Heartbleed" bug. It is important for organizations to check the status of network equipment and be able detect faulty encryption code which is called OpenSSL.
Damian Romano   3 Larger Lessons From Heartbleed   4/18/2014 2:19:13 PM
Re: No surprise...
@sara haha, good point. We in the security field had quite the day last week dealing with all the Q & A from internals as well as externals. ;)
Sara Peters   3 Larger Lessons From Heartbleed   4/18/2014 12:10:04 PM
Re: No surprise...
@Damian Romano  Well I agree with you that nobody should be surprised when there are new vulnerabilities. But in this case I think it's reasonable to expect a bit better security, since the vulnerable entity is, itself, a security tool.
impactnow   3 Larger Lessons From Heartbleed   4/15/2014 6:13:50 PM
Re: Part of software life
Its true we are hearing about another vulnerabilty everyday. We just need to address the issue and move on. These bugs are part of the development lifecycle. We need to catch them early and address them.
Nomi   3 Larger Lessons From Heartbleed   4/15/2014 11:02:35 AM
Re: No surprise...
@ Pedro Gonzales

A famous saying " when there is a will , there is a way" and I think it holds good for bad guys. They have lot of time for breaches. However good guys endeavor should always be to keep enhance the security and pecularities of system.
Damian Romano   3 Larger Lessons From Heartbleed   4/15/2014 10:31:29 AM
Re: No surprise...
@Pedro - the motivation against is far more agressive than the motivation for when it comes to network security. Nobody thinks they need protecting until they've been violated.
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