Friday, April 11, 2014

Heartbleed Will Be With Us For a Long Time

We are still in the initial stages of this, and even that has something to teach many people; namely, how difficult it is to do incident response. Security workers are scrambling, but they should at least know something about it. However, that portion of the general public who are at least somewhat aware that the Internet is a dangerous place are now doing incident response. They just don't know or use the term.

Amongst that group, there has been much anguish about public site-checking tools being overloaded, the public-facing bits of Google being reported as vulnerable (no, just a bit of code they ship, and that's been patched), etc. That is compounded by those who know enough to check certificate details in their browser, find a certificate that predates Heartbleed, but don't know that a certificate can be re-keyed without changing the dates. Which is only to be expected. The security community should be happy that there are so many users out there who will at least look at certificates. That is in some respects a breath of fresh air, given how very little we have had with user education, given that the popularity of 'password123' which is revealed with every mass breach of a popular site.

I am more concerned that the professionals may not be getting incident response right, on at least two fronts.

Some major sites (and not only those which face the general public) do not seem to be willing to tell their users that there is a problem, and that a password change will be in order as soon as patching is complete. Given that the rate of password reuse, across sites if disparate sensitivity, has always been horribly high, I regard this as an ethics issue. This would be an ideal time to communicate both rapidly and effectively.

Secondly, there is the matter of embedded systems, and/or appliances. These tend to be the bits that are the last to be patched. If they are ever patched; in some cases they seem invisible to their owners. If you operate something like a VPN-enabled SAN, I would expect a timely fix from the vendor. At which time you may be only beginning the real IT work, of course.

However, surprisingly many breaches occur over a connection that an enterprise did not know it even had. This has been true since a T1 was a cutting-edge connection, and is even more true today, as connections have grown much cheaper. Even known connections may have their own problems, which may been a factor in the 2013 Target breach.

But, what about those less-expensive connections, which may feed through a quick-and-dirty bit of hardware? Until proven otherwise, you should assume that the security of these devices is miserable. I have private keys for what seems to be 6565 combinations of hardware/firmware combinations in which SSL or SSH keys were extracted from the firmware. In that data, 'VPN' appears 534 times. [1] There is also an ongoing series of revelations of hardwired admin account/password combinations. While much of this gear is consumer-grade (these people just cannot catch a break) the scale of this problem is large. Vendors include:

  • Cisco
  • DD-WRT
  • D-Link
  • Linksys
  • Netgear
  • OpenRG
  • OpenWRT
  • Polycom
Now take even a minor step up the cost ladder. Assume (and this is demonstrably not justified) that neither keying material nor passwords are burned in. We know that Heartbleed allows access to random 64K blocks of memory. We know that private keys can be exposed, but it does not seem to be as widely known (though it should be obvious) that this is more likely soon after reboot.

You might want to look at your traffic flows again, and look for unexplained crashes or reboots of odd edge devices. There are probably many vulnerabilities out there that can generate a crash, but are not yet, or could not be, before Heartbleed, fully weaponized. This is a window of opportunity for the Bad Guys to capitalize on a serious information leak from devices that may have fallen through the cracks of your monitoring system.

[1] The firmware data source

This information has been publicly available since at least 2011, at You should be prepared to do a static build from source code, and explore an sqlite3 database. Props to /dev/ttys0 for revealing exactly how terrible this situation is. 

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