Heartbleed bug: A German developer accidentally introduced the Internet security threat?

In the last couple of days, the Internet buzz is around a new security threat codenamed Heartbleed. What makes it even scarier is that the threat has been around for over two years and unnoticed. It is termed as one of the biggest breach in history and there isn’t much Internet users can do about it. This has garnered the attention of cyber-security sleuths across the world. Now, the most crucial question is who started the Heartbleed Internet bug?


Robin Seggelmann, a German software developer, who is believed to have introduced the flaw two years ago has revealed to Sydney Morning Herald that it was a mere accident, and he didn’t intend to induce the flaw.  He reportedly was only trying to improve OpenSSL and working on an update. It should be noted that OpenSSL software is employed by several social networks, search engines, banks and other websites.


The report states that over two years ago, the software developer submitted bug fixes and new features for OpenSSL. In one of the new features, he missed validating a variable containing a length and so did his co-workers. The result of this breach was anyone could snoop on the computer servers and steal information. Seggelmann calls it a simple programming error that wasn’t intended to harm anyone, according to the report.


There isn’t much that people can do to protect themselves until the affected websites implement a fix. Here are answers to some common questions about Heartbleed and how you can protect yourself:


What is Heartbleed and why is it a big deal?

Heartbleed affects the encryption technology designed to protect online accounts for email, instant messaging and e-commerce. It was discovered by a team of researchers from the Finnish security firm Codenomicon, along with a Google Inc. researcher who was working separately.


It’s unclear whether any information has been stolen as a result of Heartbleed, but security experts are particularly worried about the bug because it went undetected for more than two years.


How does it work?

Heartbleed creates an opening in SSL/TLS, an encryption technology marked by the small, closed padlock and “https:” on Web browsers to show that traffic is secure. The flaw makes it possible to snoop on Internet traffic even if the padlock is closed. Interlopers can also grab the keys for deciphering encrypted data without the website owners knowing the theft occurred.


The problem affects only the variant of SSL/TLS known as OpenSSL, but that happens to be one of the most common on the Internet.


So if the problem has been identified, it’s been fixed and I have nothing to worry about. Right?

It depends on the website. A fixed version of OpenSSL has been released, but it’s up to the individual website administrators to put it into place.


Yahoo Inc., which has more than 800 million users around the world, said Tuesday that most of its popular services — including sports, finance and Tumblr — had been fixed, but work was still being done on other products that it didn’t identify.


What can I do to protect myself?

Ultimately, you’ll need to change your passwords, but that won’t do any good until the sites you use adopt the fix. It’s also up to the Internet services affected by the bug to let users know of the potential risks and encourage them to change their passwords.


Check out the websites affected by Heartbleed.


(With input from news agencies)

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