Security researchers have identified a very, very serious security hole in one of the fundamental technologies protecting personal data all across the Internet. OpenSSL, the cryptographic software library that an estimated two-thirds of web servers worldwide use to connect with end users and guard against digital eavesdropping, has been vulnerable to hackers for as long as two years. It may be the biggest security breach in the history of the Internet.
In a blog post published Monday, the OpenSSL researchers dubbed the critical flaw “Heartbleed,” admitted that the glitch allows for easy, untraceable breaches of secure systems, and announced the release of an immediate fix. Originally discovered by Google researcher Neel Mehta, what went wrong with OpenSSL is now a massive problem with the potential to affect the majority of secure servers on the Internet controlling everything from banking to retail to email. Here’s how the OpenSSL team described the bug:
Bugs in single software or library come and go and are fixed by new versions. However this bug has left a large amount of private keys and other secrets exposed to the Internet. Considering the long exposure, ease of exploitations and attacks leaving no trace this exposure should be taken seriously.
What’s at risk? It’s not theoretical. The research team provided evidence that with awareness of the bug, they were able to breach Yahoo security and steal email logins and passwords without leaving a trace. They wrote:
We attacked ourselves from outside, without leaving a trace. Without using any privileged information or credentials we were able steal from ourselves the secret keys used for our X.509 certificates, user names and passwords, instant messages, emails and business critical documents and communication.
Anyone who noticed and exploited the bug since it was introduced on March 14, 2012 could have easy access to an incomprehensible number of secure systems. And as TechCrunchnotes, even encrypted data illegally stolen from servers could eventually be forced open either with more stolen data or other methods, depending on server configuration. Redditors with awareness of the bug claim to have been able to identify vulnerabilities in sites ranging from Yahoo mail to their banks.
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