On a day when system administrators were already taxed addressing several security updates released by Microsoft, Oracle, and Adobe, there is now word of a new security hole discovered in a basic protocol used for encrypting web traffic. Its name is POODLE, which stands for Padding Oracle on Downgraded Legacy Encryption, and it was discovered by three Google security researchers—Bodo Moller, Thai Duong, and Krzysztof Kotowicz. They published a paper (.pdf) about it today.
POODLE affects SSLv3 or version 3 of the Secure Sockets Layer protocol, which is used to encrypt traffic between a browser and a web site or between a user’s email client and mail server. It’s not as serious as the recent Heartbleed and Shellshock vulnerabilities, but POODLE could allow an attacker to hijack and decrypt the session cookie that identifies you to a service like Twitter or Google, and then take over your accounts without needing your password.
The attack works only on traffic sessions using SSLv3. Although this is an old protocol that has been replaced in many client and server configurations with TLS (Transport Layer Security), many browser clients and web servers that use TLS for connections still support SSLv3. Some products and browsers, like Internet Explorer 6 for Windows XP, only use SSLv3. There are also clients that support SSLv3 as an alternative to use whenever a TLS connection to a web server fails. An attacker could exploit this compatibility to downgrade a connection to SSLv3 and then conduct the POODLE attack to hijack your session.
Google’s security team has recommended that systems administrators simply turn off support for SSLv3 to avoid the problem. But this will mean that some users trying to connect securely to a web server using SSLv3 will have trouble connecting if they’re using a client that only supports this protocol.
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