2014-04-09 02:21:09 UTC
By MICHAEL LIEDTKE and ANICK JESDANUN, AP Technology Writers
7:01 pm, Tuesday, April 8, 2014
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — 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," Charier 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 Monday 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
"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.
Yahoo Inc., which boasts more than 800 million users worldwide, is among
the Internet services that could be potentially hurt by Heartbleed. The
Sunnyvale, Calif., company said most of its most popular services —
including sports, finance and Tumblr — had been fixed, but work was
still being done on other products that it didn't identify in a
"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 creates an opening in SSL/TLS, an encryption technology
marked by the small, closed padlock and "https:" on Web browsers to
signify that traffic is secure. The flaw makes it possible to snoop on
Internet traffic even if the padlock had been closed. Interlopers could
also grab the keys for deciphering encrypted data without the website
owners knowing the theft had occurred, according to security
The problem affects only the variant of SSL/TLS known as OpenSSL, but
that happens to be one of the most common on the Internet.
About two-thirds of Web servers rely on OpenSSL, Chartier said. That
means the information passing through hundreds of thousands of websites
could be vulnerable, despite the protection offered by
encryptions. Beside emails and chats, OpenSSL is also used to secure
virtual private networks, which are used by employees to connect with
corporate networks seeking to shield confidential information from
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. The snooping has been revealed during the past 10 months
through a series of leaked documents from former NSA contractor Edward
Despite the worries raised by Heartbleed, Codenomicon said many large
consumer sites aren't likely to be affected because of their
"conservative choice" of equipment and software. "Ironically, smaller
and more progressive services or those who have upgraded to (the) latest
and best encryption will be affected most," the security firm said in a
Although it may take months for smaller websites to install the
Heartbleed fix, Chartier predicted all the major Internet services will
act quickly to protect their reputations.
In a Tuesday post announcing it had installed the Heartbleed fix, Tumblr
offered its users some blunt advice.
"This still means that the little lock icon (HTTPS) we all trusted to
keep our passwords, personal emails, and credit cards safe, was actually
making all that private information accessible to anyone who knew about
the exploit," Tumblr said. "This might be a good day to call in sick and
take some time to change your passwords everywhere — especially your
high-security services like email, file storage, and banking, which may
have been compromised by this bug."