Tag Archive: Aldergrove Computers


The Heartbleed bug: Am I at risk and do I really have to change my password?

The discovery of Heartbleed, a flaw in one of the most widespread encryption standards used online, has panicked webmasters and users alike.

The bug has gone unnoticed for more than two years and could have potentially given hackers access to an unlimited array of secure data — everything from passwords and login details to credit card numbers and addresses.

Although it’s difficult to say exactly how many websites have been exposed, the lower estimates are around 500 million with a large number of major web companies (Google, Facebook, Yahoo, etc) all forced to update their software to protect against the bug.

However, there have been quite a lot of mixed messages as to whether or not users should change their passwords, with some outlets urging that you should create new ones immediately while others are advising that you wait.

To add to the confusion there’s also been reports of hackers sending out phishing emails related to Heartbleed — in order to trick users into giving up passwords that have yet to be compromised. Be on the look out for these and don’t follow any links in suspicious looking emails – if you want to change a password go to the site directly.

Which sites are affected?
Most Google sites and services (including Gmail and YouTube – but not Chrome) were affected, as were sites maintained by Yahoo (including Tumblr and Flickr). Facebook was also hit by the bug although Twitter and LinkedIn were not.

Other big sites that have confirmed that they weren’t affected include Amazon, Hotmail and Outlook, eBay, PayPal and all of Apple’s properties — including iCloud and iTunes. If you want to check whether or not a site you use is still affected then you can do so here — just enter the URL.

Another big worry is for online banking, but thankfully we have some good news in that department. Lloyds, HSBC, RBS, Natwest, Santander and the Co-Op have all confirmed that they were not affected by the bug (they were using different encryption standards). Barclays has yet to issue a statement.

However, this does not mean that your credit card details are completely safe — as they could have been compromised via your Gmail or another third-party site. The security of mobile banking apps is still a developing situation as well.

So do I need to change my passwords?
In a word: Yes. For the sites we’ve listed above as being affected (including Gmail, Yahoo, Tumblr, Flickr, Facebook) it definitely won’t hurt to change your password some time in the next couple of weeks.

Although security experts have warned that you shouldn’t be too quick to change passwords, this is because not all website have patched their servers and changing your password before this happens could make matters worse. The sites we’ve listed above have patched their servers and if you want to check one we’ve not mentioned — click here and enter the URL.

Unfortunately, some sites (including Google) have specifically said that users don’t need to change their passwords. While it’s true that some sites are confident that they fixed the bug a while back, as most of us are guilty of changing our passwords less frequently than we should do (aka never) we think that this is as good an opportunity as ever to be a bit more security-conscious.

What should my new password be?
In lists of the most frequently used passwords online there’s some obvious clangers that we know you’re too smart to use (these include old standbys such as ‘123456’ and ‘password’ itself) but just because a password doesn’t look obvious to you that doesn’t make it safe.

This means that you shouldn’t really use any single words that are found in the dictionary, any words connected to you (place of birth or pets’ names), nor should you use any obvious ‘substitutions’ (eg pa55w0rd — more complicated variations are required) or patterns derived from your keyboard layout (eg ‘1qaz2wsx’ or ‘zxcvbnm’).

It’s wise to use a variety of characters in your password (including upper and lower case as well as numbers) but an easy way to get more secure is to start thinking of your password as a passphrase.

The easiest way of increasing the difficulty of a password is by simply making it longer — so try combining multiple words together and then adding in numbers between them.

You could pick a number of some significance to you (for example a loved one’s birthday, ie 12/08/1970) and then splicing this with a nonsensical phrase (‘shoesplittingwatchwizard’) to get a suitably difficulty password: Shoe12Splitting08Watch1970Wizard.

Other suggested methods for making a strong and memorable password include taking a sentence or a favourite line from a song as a starting point. So you might take the line “When you call my name it’s like a little prayer” and turn it into wuCmNilaLP. Madonna is optional of course, but we think this a fun method — especially if you can work in numbers somewhere.

You should also use different passwords for your different accounts (perhaps the most difficult piece of advice to follow of all) and if you want to be really secure you should also set up two-step authentication where available.

Ryan says: I recommend everyone on any of the sites mentioned in this article to change their passwords ASAP.

Critical crypto bug leaves Linux, hundreds of apps open to eavesdropping

Hundreds of open source packages, including the Red Hat, Ubuntu, and Debian distributions of Linux, are susceptible to attacks that circumvent the most widely used technology to prevent eavesdropping on the Internet, thanks to an extremely critical vulnerability in a widely used cryptographic code library.

The bug in the GnuTLS library makes it trivial for attackers to bypass secure sockets layer (SSL) and Transport Layer Security (TLS) protections available on websites that depend on the open source package. Initial estimates included in Internet discussions such as this one indicate that more than 200 different operating systems or applications rely on GnuTLS to implement crucial SSL and TLS operations, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the actual number is much higher. Web applications, e-mail programs, and other code that use the library are vulnerable to exploits that allow attackers monitoring connections to silently decode encrypted traffic passing between end users and servers.

The bug is the result of commands in a section of the GnuTLS code that verify the authenticity of TLS certificates, which are often known simply as X509 certificates. The coding error, which may have been present in the code since 2005, causes critical verification checks to be terminated, drawing ironic parallels to the extremely critical “goto fail” flaw that for months put users of Apple’s iOS and OS X operating systems at risk of surreptitious eavesdropping attacks. Apple developers have since patched the bug.

“It was discovered that GnuTLS did not correctly handle certain errors that could occur during the verification of an X.509 certificate, causing it to incorrectly report a successful verification,” an advisory issued by Red Hat warned. “An attacker could use this flaw to create a specially crafted certificate that could be accepted by GnuTLS as valid for a site chosen by the attacker.”

GnuTLS developers published this bare-bones advisory that urges all users to upgrade to version 3.2.12. The flaw, formally indexed as CVE-2014-0092, is described by a GnuTLS developer as “an important (and at the same time embarrassing) bug discovered during an audit for Red Hat.” Debian’s advisory is here.

As was the case with last week’s critical encryption bug from Apple, the GnuTLS vulnerability is the result of someone making mistakes in source code that controls critical functions of the program. This time, instead of a single misplaced “goto fail” command, the mistakes involve errors with several “goto cleanup” calls. The GnuTLS program, in turn, prematurely terminates code sections that are supposed to establish secure TLS connections only after the other side presents a valid X509 certificate signed by a trusted source. Attackers can exploit the error by presenting vulnerable systems with a fraudulent certificate that is never rejected, despite its failure to pass routine security checks. The failure may allow attackers using a self-signed certificate to pose as the cryptographically authenticated operator of a vulnerable website and to decrypt protected communications. It’s significant that no one managed to notice such glaring errors, particularly since they were contained in code that anyone can review.

Security researchers are still studying the vulnerability and assessing its effect on the wide array of OSes and applications that depend on GnuTLS. For the moment, readers should assume that the severity is critical given the dizzying amount of downstream code that may be affected. One example: the apt-get installer some distributions of Linux use to distribute and update applications relies on GnuTLS, although exploits against the package can probably be caught by cryptographic code-signing of the downloaded program (thanks to readers for pointing out this secondary level of protection). Version 3 of lib-curl, which is distributed in Debian and Ubuntu, also depends on GnuTLS. Some Debian- and Ubuntu-based virtual private networking applications that work with Cisco Systems hardware are also affected. This list goes on and on.

Source: ArsTechnica