Heartbleed causes heartache

The latest and scariest news in security is the “Heartbleed” bug. This evocative name comes from the fact that there is a buffer overread flaw in the implementation of the “heartbeat” extension to TLS that leaks information, potentially including usernames, passwords, secret keys and other communications. This serious flaw has been present in OpenSSL, a very popular open source implementation of the protocol used to secure the internet, for years.

 

In the coming weeks, we’ll be thinking a lot about how this could be avoided. This type of flaw, a failure to check boundaries during buffer reads and writes, is one of the oldest in the industry. These issues are incredibly challenging to detect manually and highlight the value of  a secure development lifecycle. Particularly in security sensitive code, we need to recognize that a rigorous process, using automated tools and manual review, is necessary. Furthermore, we need to pay more attention to open source components in our applications – as we spend more time and effort on secure development in enterprise software, we can’t neglect the growing part of our infrastructure that relies on these efforts.

 

Finally, we need to pay attention to human factors. In the wake of all of the news reports of what is an extremely technical problem, a lot of people are going to want to make sure they do the right thing. For those responsible for potentially vulnerable servers, there is a lot of guidance out thereBut let us remember how confusing this can be for users.  This news provides an  opportunity for attackers to pray on their fears. One facetious example I’ve already seen is a website offering to check if your private key is secure. I fully expect to see emails in the coming weeks inviting me to update my password with my financial institutions and favorite ecommerce sites. Two guidelines I plan to follow: 1) Do not follow links from emails, use the usual bookmarks, links or URLs to ensure you are navigating to the correct site. 2) Do not update your credentials until the site has been patched. The latter is the more  challenging (there is a site that will check URLs), but I hope sites will be open about addressing this critical issue.

Tags: OpenSSL
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