The newly exposed Heartbleed bug plaguing some 17 percent of SSL-secured websites as well as various VPN products has caused a massive case of Internet heartburn over the past 48 hours as companies rushed to confirm their exposure and lock down their SSL/TLS software. But just how bad is it?
Errata Security CEO Robert Graham scanned the Net for machines vulnerable to the implementation flaw in the so-called Heartbeat function of TLS, and discovered some 600,000 affected out of 28 million SSL machines. He estimates that some one-third of SSL machines had been patched with the update to the buggy OpenSSL library. Netcraft, meanwhile, says the buggy Heartbeat extension is enabled on 17.5 percent of SSL sites, which include close to a half-million digital certificates at risk of theft and spoofing from the attack.
Heartbleed may be one of the biggest Internet security events since security expert Dan Kaminsky found and helped coordinate a fix for the massive Domain Name Service (DNS) caching vulnerability in 2008. Bruce Schneier gives Heartbleed an 11 rating on an ascending scale of 1 to 10, and security companies and experts are issuing warnings of the severity of the bug. The flaw, a two-year old implementation bug in the open-source OpenSSL, has been fixed with the new OpenSSL 1.0.1g, but experts say to assume it's already been abused by nation-states or cyber criminals given the two years it wasn't publicly known.
Fixing Heartbleed isn't cheap. The estimated cost to remedy the flaw is hundreds or thousands of dollars per server or application, according to Tatu Ylonen, inventor of the SSH protocol and CEO and founder of SSH Communications Security. That adds up to more than a billion dollars in overall labor and certificate renewal costs worldwide, Ylonen says.
The bug, in Versions 1.0.1 and 1.0.2 beta, leaks the contents of the memory from the server to the client and vice versa, potentially exposing passwords and other sensitive data and the SSL server's private key. While there have been reports of Yahoo passwords exposed by the bug and massive nefarious scanning for the flaw on the Net and signs of attacks since Heartbleed was revealed late Monday, there's still debate over just how easily exploitable the bug really is.
"Certainly, nation-states will have the best capability to quickly weaponize this vulnerability for large-scale exploitation," Schneier says.
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