Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Stem my bleeding heart

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If you read tech news on the internet, then you will have almost certainly come across the Heartbleed bug. As well as being probably the first programming bug to have a logo and brand name, it’s also very serious. It affects, or affected, a significant number of web sites and web services – pretty much anything that used SSL or TLS and the OpenSSL library. This will include many sites using the open source Apache and nginx web servers, which between them account for a majority of web sites.

The Heartbleed bug was in the ‘heartbeat’ component of OpenSSL, and first appeared in a code commit made at around 11pm on New Years Eve 2011 – make of that what you will. The first stable release of OpenSSL with the bug came in March 2012, and it was only fixed relatively recently. It’s therefore estimated that 17% of the world’s web sites may be affected.

If you administer a server that uses OpenSSL, then you’ll need to make sure that you update to the latest version which fixes the bug. But you may also need to revoke your SSL certificates and acquire new ones, and, if you suspect any foul play, do a full security audit. You can check your server using this tool – I’ve verified that this site was never affected.

If you’re just a regular user of the internet, then you may notice that some web sites will have forcibly logged you out. Some may also require you to change your password, and possibly re-connect any third party apps linked to your account. IFTTT emailed me to suggest changing my password, and Pocket has advised its users to do the same. Ironically, so has the web site Should I Change My Password which notifies of data breaches. If you are not already, I would suggest using a password manager such as 1Password, RoboForm, Keypass or LastPass. LastPass users can also find out if any sites they use have been affected by Heartbleed.

Some security experts have suggested that users change all of their passwords, although only once the web sites have implemented their fixes. This may not be necessary and PayPal has said they were not affected by Heartbleed. However, if you’re not using strong, unique passwords for every web site then now may be a good time to do so, regardless of whether sites have been affected or not, and the aforementioned password managers will help you in that regard. A lot of sites will now accept passwords that are more than 20 characters long, with special characters, which should be very, very difficult to crack.

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