Heartbleed headlines continue this week as IT admins scramble for answers no one has. Early reports of stolen personal information -- including 900 social insurance numbers in Canada -- are starting to trickle in.
Indeed, the recent discovery of Heartbleed has thrown information security professionals into a tizzy and we may not have seen the worst of it yet. This could be the zero day bug to end all zero day bugs -- at least until the next one.
Security engineers at Codenomicon who found the bug are reporting that the vulnerability is in the OpenSSL cryptographic software library. The weakness, they said, steals information typically protected by the SSL/TLS encryption used to secure the Internet. Current reports suggest up to 60 percent of Web servers could be impacted.
The Canada Revenue Agency said the data was stolen from its systems, which were left vulnerable by the Heartbleed bug, according to reports. The agency said it blocked public access to its online services for several days last week until it addressed the security risk, but despite that measure, a data breach occurred over a six-hour period.
Miles To Go
We caught up with Mark Gazit, CEO of ThetaRay and one of Israel’s sharpest cybersecurity professionals, to get his take on the issue. He told us experts are still looking for ways to patch Heartbleed before malicious actors heavily exploit it. Some advisories are telling organizations to “assume the worst has already happened,” preparing teams to move to detection and post-breach response plans, he noted.
“The immediate thought on everyone’s mind is that when there is a bug, there is a patch, and the first thing to do is apply it to stop the bleeding,” Gazit said. “Although this may appear to be a solution and a way of allaying the panic, applying patches to the many vulnerable platforms can take at least six to 12 months. Months will pass before vulnerable vendors, and all levels of end users, return to safe OpenSSL-dependent activity.”
Patching may help, but Gazit is convinced that Heartbleed will live on well beyond the patch applications because the bug is so-far reaching into internal networks, server communications, and products that were already shipped out to end users. As he sees it, completely fixing the issue will take a very long time. Meanwhile, he said, malicious actors are actively looking for ways to exploit the flaw.
What About Two-Factor Authentication?
There’s been plenty of talk about changing passwords. The general consensus is passwords should not be changed until after the servers are patched or they could be compromised again.
“As for two-factor authentication, for those organizations that use it for VPN access and secure activities on their online accounts and infrastructure, it can help to an extent,” Gazit said. “The issue is that when Web servers themselves are very possibly compromised by unauthorized parties, the authentication using that second factor will also be eavesdropped on, and can be intercepted in a man-in-the-middle fashion. Two-factor authentication will offer more security only once the flaw is patched and the certainty that resources are secured is restored.”
The bottom line: Organizations that know they have been affected must thoroughly examine their internal infrastructure and initiate incident response to ensure that security is fully restored, Gazit said. He called it a classic case where perimeter defenses, firewalls and others defenses are all layers that offer some security, but are unable to detect the unknown and unexpected.
“Organizations need to be able to detect attackers and issues well after they have made it through their gates, find them, and stop them before damage can occur,” Gazit said. “The only way to achieve such a laser-precision level of detection is through the use of hyper-dimensional big data analytics, deploying it as part of the very core of the defense mechanisms.”