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What is HeartBleed? The biggest security threat the internet has ever seen

Martyn Casserly | April 14, 2014
A new vulnerability at the heart of internet encryption could have far reaching implications.

"These are the crown jewels", said the company. "The encryption keys themselves. Leaked secret keys allows the attacker to decrypt any past and future traffic to the protected services and to impersonate the service at will. Any protection given by the encryption and the signatures in the X.509 certificates can be bypassed. Recovery from this leak requires patching the vulnerability, revocation of the compromised keys and reissuing and redistributing new keys. Even doing all this will still leave any traffic intercepted by the attacker in the past still vulnerable to decryption."

In this post-Snowden world, some commentators began to wonder whether this erroneous code, along with the high profile GoToFail bug recently found in Apple software, might not be a mistake at all.

"At this point," Bruce Schneier wrote, "the probability is close to one that every target has had its private keys extracted by multiple intelligence agencies. The real question is whether or not someone deliberately inserted this bug into OpenSSL, and has had two years of unfettered access to everything. My guess is accident, but I have no proof."

How much damage the Heartbleed bug has caused is almost impossible to gauge at the moment. Companies have scrambled to patch the code, while certificate issuing services are struggling heroically to meet the demands that this revelation has created. Whether anyone stumbled across the vulnerability during its two years in the wild is anyone's guess, but the dangers can't just be shrugged off. Although there isn't much you can do about the past, Tumblr's suggestion to take the day off and change all of your passwords is definitely a good idea. While you're at it turn on two-step verification on as many devices and services as you can. It won't protect you against Heartbleed as such, but it's only a matter of time before the next big threat arrives, so we might as well get ready.


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