October 30, 2014

Heartbleed bug exposes OpenSSL’s secrets, patches available

heartbleedA serious security bug has been found in the ubiquitous OpenSSL encryption library that allows data to be stolen in its unencrypted form. According to the heartbleed.com website, which was set up expressly to inform system admins about the potential dangers, the Heartbleed bug can be exploited from the Internet and it allows an attacker to read up to 64k of the server’s memory at one time. By reading the memory an attacker can gain access to “the secret keys used to identify the service providers and to encrypt the traffic” along with “the names and passwords of the users and the actual content.” It means that attackers can eavesdrop communications that should have been otherwise encrypted.

A patched version of OpenSSL has already been published. According to the release notes, “a missing bounds check in the handling of the TLS heartbeat extension can be used to reveal up to 64k of memory” on a connected client or server. The OpenSSL project publicly thanked Neel Mehta of Google Security for discovering this bug and Adam Langley with Bodo Moeller for preparing the fix. It is recommended that all OpenSSL 1.0.1 users should upgrade to OpenSSL 1.0.1g. Those unable to immediately upgrade should recompile OpenSSL with -DOPENSSL_NO_HEARTBEATS. OpenSSL 1.0.0 and OpenSSL 0.9.8 are not vulnerable.

Heartbleed isn’t a design flaw in the SSL/TLS protocol specification but rather a bug in OpenSSL’s implementation of the TLS/DTLS (transport layer security protocols) heartbeat extension (RFC6520).

Because the bug can expose the keys used for encrypting the connection, attackers are able to decrypt any past and future traffic to the encrypted connection since the primary keys have been exposed. Unfortunately to remedy the problem, not only does the server require patching but all the compromised keys need to be revoked and new keys reissued. It also means that users who have used an encrypted service (say a web mail service, online shopping or cloud service) will need to change their passwords as potentially the connection used to log in was not secure.

One very worrying aspect of this bug is not only the widespread use of OpenSSL, but also that the first vulnerable version was published two years ago. If this bug has been previously found (but not disclosed) by cyber criminals or government run security agencies then the last two years worth of encrypted traffic should be deemed as exposed. Even if it wasn’t found but the traffic was recorded then there are probably lots of state level agencies working right now to siphon off keys from around the net before things are revoked and changed.

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