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The World is Failing to Remediate the Heartbleed Vulnerability

The World is Failing to Remediate the Heartbleed Vulnerability

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April 16, 2014 | Kevin Bocek

Time is running out to change keys and certificates or else…

The world appears to be failing to respond to the Heartbleed vulnerability. In fact well under 16% of vulnerable keys and certificates have been replaced. Experts Bruce Schneier, Gartner, Akamai, and CloudFlare all agree about what enterprises must assume and do: Enterprises must assume keys and certificates are compromised. As a result, organizations MUST change ALL keys and certificates to complete remediation: rekey, reissue, and revoke.

Remediation of ALL keys and certificates is important since the vulnerability may have exposed keys and certificates as a result of continued expansion of attacks beyond the initial infiltration and vulnerability.

Respected security researcher Dan Kaminsky explained the reason behind replacing ALL keys and certificates:

“Find anything moving SSL, particularly your SSL VPNs, prioritizing on open inbound, any TCP port. Cycle your certs if you have them, you’re going to lose them, you may have already, we don’t know.”

The EFF has confirmed Heartbleed exploits in November 2013 and other reports indicate possible exploits go back two years. Therefore, we must assume our adversaries were compromising keys and certificates for long time before Monday, April 7th when the Heartbleed bug was first publically announced.

Until key and certificate replacement remediation occurs, enterprises are vulnerable to spoofing and decryption. As of April 15th, over seven days since the first calls to change keys and certificates began, Netcraft reports that only 16% of certificates known to be used with publicly vulnerable webserver were only revoked.

Less than 16% remediation

And remediation on these systems is likely even lower than 16% of publicly vulnerable systems because new keys were not created in many cases. Some incident response teams are only reissuing certificates without changing keys. Gartner’s Erik Heidt accurately describes the situation in his Heartbleed remediation blog:

“Many organizations perform ‘lazy’ certificate rotations, and do not create new keys! This is a bad practice.“

Gartner concluded, “because this attack [Heartbleed] enables the recovery of the private key itself, certificate rotation alone will not protect you! New private keys must be generated.”

This is the same guidance that once-skeptical, now-converted CloudFlare gave after researchers proved SSL/TLS keys could be stolen using the Heartbleed vulnerability:

“Our recommendation based on this finding is that everyone reissue and revoke their private keys”

Furthermore, there are hundreds of applications from IBM, Juniper, Cisco, and many others that are vulnerable to Heartbleed and use keys and certificates. Many of these operate behind the firewall and some may, incorrectly, assume replacing keys and certificates on these systems is not important. Assuming this would be a terrible mistake since behind-the-firewall attackers would love nothing more than to be able to spoof services like VPNs, security systems, applications servers, and more and decrypt encrypted SSL/TLS traffic.

Take action now while you still can

CISOs should not and cannot tolerate this situation. Some IT security leaders may be told by incident response teams that a full-scale rekey, reissue, and revoke is not necessary. Others may be told that it’s too complicated or time consuming. And there has been a false assumption that patching is all that’s required. Some may be misinformed, possibly by websites that show remediation is complete, but have no awareness of changes to keys and certificates, only to basic patching.

Do CISOs and security teams believe that usernames and passwords should not be changed? No. Therefore, they should not, and cannot, live with a situation where all keys and certificates are not replaced.

Venafi customers are quickly remediating

Venafi customers are speeding through incident response. With Venafi TrustAuthority™, security teams have full visibility into all their keys and certificates, which applications use them, and who owns them. Combined with Venafi TrustForce™, remediation is only a click away: keys and certificates can be changed and securely distributed and installed. All without any intervention from an application owner or system administrator!

Whether you’re a Venafi customer or not, please change ALL of your keys AND certificates. Triage keys and certificates from public vulnerable systems, then internal vulnerable systems, and then the remaining keys and certificates throughout the enterprise. Remediation will be complete and your organization will be secure.

You can learn more about how Venafi can help you quickly respond and remediate to incidents like Heartbleed here.

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About the author

Kevin Bocek
Kevin Bocek

Kevin is Vice President of Security Strategy & Threat Intelligence at Venafi. He is recognized as a subject matter expert in threat detection, encryption, digital signatures, and key management, and has previously held positions at CipherCloud, PGP Corporation and Thales.

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