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Interweb has staunched nearly all Heartbleed wounds, says crypto bod

Just a few weeks after discovery ... well, that was quick

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Infosec The Heartbleed password-leaking vulnerability in OpenSSL has almost been eradicated from the web just weeks after its discovery, according to an encryption expert.

Ivan Ristic, director of engineering at cloud security firm Qualys, estimates that 25 per cent of websites worldwide were vulnerable to the data-disclosing bug on 8 April – a figure that has dropped to less than one per cent just three weeks later, he claims.

By comparison, eight per cent of websites are still vulnerable to an insecure renegotiation problem discovered in 2009, he says. "Insecure Renegotiation is bad but not in the same level as Heartbleed, but even so the rapid pace of patching against Heartbleed is unprecedented" and "shows that we can do it if we apply ourselves", according to Ristic.

Melih Abdulhayoğlu, the founder of security firm Comodo, told El Reg that the certification authority had issued tens of thousands of fresh SSL/TLS certificates after word of the Heartbleed bug spread on 8 April. "Everyone realised it was a problem and updated quickly," according to Abdulhayoğlu, who added that Comodo had decided not to charge for reissued certificates.

Heartbleed heartache

The Heartbleed OpenSSL cock-up exposed private cryptographic keys and their sensitive data flowing through the memory of HTTPS web servers, VPN software, mobile phones, and more. It forced big names on the internet to urge their users to change their passwords; mix that brouhaha in with revelations by sysadmin-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden on super-snooping governments, and you can understand why punters are pushing for more security.

"People want secure e-commerce," Ristic explained. "This is good because browser vendors have been focused on features rather than security. For example, it took five years from 2008 to 2013 to apply TLS 1.2, even though support is not complex."

Ristic, who runs Qualys SSL Labs, gave the presentation SSL/TLS and PKI: Still Secure? at the Infosec 2014 conference in London this week.

In the face of the lamentable state of web security, it might be tempting to think that the best option is to redesign internet security from scratch, but Ristic rejected this idea.

If encryption experts were to design a new protocol they would come up something better than TLS, but they "can't stop the world to design a new protocol" and that's why it's much better to fix incrementally, according to Ristic.

"If the protocol is bad it would have failed a long time ago," he added.

"SSL is not secure in the way everybody is using it but if you do the right things it is secure," Ristic explained.

He said the vast majority (99.9 per cent) of websites don't securely safeguard their network traffic, but this can be improved if site admins take five steps – the first three being: use encryption, apply a secure configuration, and switch on perfect forward secrecy (PFS).

"PFS involves a simple reconfiguration and leaves sites in much better shape in dealing with problems like Heartbleed," Ristic explained.

The final two steps involve applying HTTP Strict Transport Security, so that any problems trigger an unavoidable full stop to the connection – a hard fail – rather than certificate warnings (which netizens disregard, leaving them exposed to risks), and applying a content security policy.

Ristic rejected the potential comparison between his proposals and the payment card industry's compliance standard for secure transactions – the latter criticised by sections of the infosec biz as promoting adherence to a set of rules rather than genuinely improving security. "SSL is simpler and you can prescribe exactly what needs to be done," he added. ®

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