Edition: Global Global Select Region
Email: Passwd: or sign up free
One News Page
> >
Open news article

Heartbleed and the NSA


The online community is still reeling from the discovery of what might just be the biggest security flaw in the history of the Internet.  It's been around for years, thousands of websites may have been compromised, it's very difficult to tell if an attacker has exploited the bug... and, according to one news outlet, the National Security Agency learned of its existence at least two years ago, but they didn't tell anyone, leaving American citizens vulnerable to identity and data theft while the NSA exploited flaw for its own purposes.

The NSA flatly denies the latter accusation, which was made in a Bloomberg News report on Friday.  The security flaw itself, now known as "Heartbleed," was by all accounts introduced by accident through the work of a single programmer at the end of 2011... literally one minute before midnight on New Year's Eve, to be precise.  He was one of many programmers contributing to an "open source" project - a popular method for developing free or inexpensive software through volunteer collaboration, although open-sourcing might grow considerably less popular because of the current crisis. 

Heartbleed is such a big deal that it has its own website, dedicated to explaining how it works and providing suggestions for how to deal with it.  Heartbleed is not a virus - it's a security vulnerability in a crucial bit of Internet software known as SSL, which stands for Secure Sockets Layer.  It's the software that encrypts Web traffic from secure sites, including banks, credit card companies, online merchants, and online email systems such as Gmail.  SSL connections essentially establish a secure, private "phone call" between your computer and sensitive websites.

If you placed such a secure phone call to someone, you wouldn't want the phone to automatically hang up if there were a few moments of silence during your conversation.  SSL handles that with code that establishes a "heartbeat" to keep the connection open between systems, even if one of the systems goes idle for a little while.  The security flaw is part of this heartbeat code, which is why it earned the memorable nickname "Heartbleed."

Hackers who understand how the Heartbleed vulnerability works can use it to pull very small chunks of data out of targeted systems, like a heart that leaks a few drops of blood every time it thumps.  The problem is that a hacker can keep harvesting these little bits of data, over and over again, until a sizable amount of information has been poached from secure communications.  The information intercepted in this manner can include the names and passwords of people using the system.  In other words, if the Heartbleed flaw is used to attack an email server, the names and passwords of all the email users might eventually be compromised.  The attacker might even be able to intercept the administrative passwords for the targeted system, potentially granting unlimited access to its data.  It's just like tapping into a phone line and listening to a sensitive conversation.

Unfortunately, the affected SSL code is used by a huge number of online systems - some estimates say over half a million.  A new version of SSL that fixes this vulnerability has been distributed, but it will take time to implement.  Meanwhile, it's very difficult to tell which systems might have been raided for passwords, because these attacks don't leave much evidence in their wake.  And changing your passwords as a precaution might not help, because if you're dealing with a system that has come under Heartbleed assault, the hackers might quickly steal your new password, too.  

There is more information about which systems may have been compromised, and security precautions that can be taken, at the Heartbleed.com website.  The problem may also have migrated into the firmware of some computer networking hardware, and the Droid smartphone operating system.  There's no compelling evidence that any data has been stolen through Heartbleed yet.  It wasn't discovered by researchers until last week, after running on some affected systems for two years.  It's possible hackers never found it... but today came allegations that the U.S. government did.

According to sources for the controversial Bloomberg News report from Friday, the NSA found Heartbleed shortly after it was introduced, but decided to keep it a secret, and may have used it for their own purposes, rather than issuing a warning to the public.  Although Bloomberg quotes a few cyber-security experts and claims to have several inside sources, the bombshell paragraph in the article is not directly sourced: "Putting the Heartbleed bug in its arsenal, the NSA was able to obtain passwords and other basic data that are the building blocks of the sophisticated hacking operations at the core of its mission, but at a cost. Millions of ordinary users were left vulnerable to attack from other nations’ intelligence arms and criminal hackers."

The agency categorically denied this report in a statement: "NSA was not aware of the recently identified vulnerability in OpenSSL, the so-called Heartbleed vulnerability, until it was made public in a private-sector cybersecurity report.  Reports that say otherwise are wrong."
Share on FacebookShare on Twitter Comment
Source: Newsy - on April 12, 2014

News video: Heartbleed Runs Deeper Than We Thought

Heartbleed Runs Deeper Than We Thought 02:25

Researchers have discovered Heartbleed can compromise clients visiting servers and leaves private SSL keys vulnerable.

Recent related news

Open news article

The White House establishes a new agency to collect cyber security intelligence

The White House establishes a new agency to collect cyber security intelligence
It’s becoming clearer with every new hack or DDoS that governments need to pay more attention to cyber security, so the White House has now signed for the...
The Next Web 13 hours ago - InternetAlso reported by •TechCrunchThe Verge
Open news article

Gemalto says reports of its hack by the NSA and GCHQ were greatly exaggerated

But there's room for skepticism and The Intercept already responded to company's claims.
Ars Technica 1 day ago - TechnologyAlso reported by •The Next Webguardian.co.ukBoy Genius Report
Open news article

Why the NSA SIM hack might be far more serious than you think

A few days ago, a report revealed that spy agencies including the NSA and GCHQ, managed to bypass the security of SIM card manufacturer Gemalto and gain access...
Boy Genius Report 2 days ago - TechnologyAlso reported by •The VergeDigital Trends
Open news article

National security at risk? Here’s what led the NSA to probe oil ministry

Frequent reporting of classified documents in the media is what actually triggered the massive crackdown on espionage in various ministries and resulted in the...
Firstpost 6 days ago - India

Open news article

Bombshell report reveals the NSA has stolen encryption keys for millions of SIM cards

In a bombshell report published on Thursday, Jeremy Scahill and Josh Begley of The Intercept detail how the NSA and British Intelligence operatives managed to...
Boy Genius Report 1 week ago - TechnologyAlso reported by •TechCrunchThe Verge
Open news article

The NSA and Britain's intelligence network hacked the largest SIM card maker to secretly monitor cellphones

The NSA and Britain's intelligence network hacked the largest SIM card maker to secretly monitor cellphones
ajc.com 1 week ago - BusinessAlso reported by •The Verge
Open news article

Kaspersky Lab reveals spyware on the world’s most popular hard drives, suspects the NSA

Kaspersky Lab reveals spyware on the world’s most popular hard drives, suspects the NSA
The security researchers at Kaspersky Lab have revealed that an agency – most likely the NSA – has developed spyware that can be hidden on hard drives. The...
The Next Web 1 week ago - Internet

You Might Like

Other recent news in US

POLICE: Man with connection to Tennessee murder case found dead in Florida in apparent suicideFlorida Police Arrest WOMAN For Domestic Nut Punching Incident
Chicago Police Deny Operating a Secret ‘BLACK Site’ Interrogation FacilityLlamas Lead ARIZONA Police on Chase Through Phoenix Suburbs
Police: MISSOURI auditor apparently killed himself with single gunshotFCC approves NET NEUTRALITY rules; Islamic State militant 'Jihadi John' identified (10 Things to Know for Friday)
Woman held as sex slave, 3 arrested in Northern CALIFORNIA, officials sayOld Jefferson man guilty of MURDER in woman's 2012 death
JIHADI JOHN indentified as Mohammed Emwazi from LondonFLORIDA Panthers Acquire Jaromir Jagr



Environmentally friendly: One News Page is hosted on servers powered solely by renewable energy
© 2015 One News Page Ltd. All Rights Reserved.  |  About us  |  Disclaimer  |  Press Room  |  Terms & Conditions  |  Privacy Policy  |  Content Accreditation
One News Page - Top Headlines RSS Feed RSS  |  News for my Website  |  Free news search widget  |  Advertise  |  Help  |  Contact us  |  DMCA / Content Removal
How are we doing? Send us your feedback  |  One News Page on Facebook LIKE us on Facebook  One News Page on Twitter FOLLOW us on Twitter  One News Page on Google+ FIND us on Google+