Heartbleed may expose SA financial information

2014-04-15 10:25
John Miller of Trustwave says that the Heartbleed bug presents a real threat to South African consumers' financial information. (Trustwave)

John Miller of Trustwave says that the Heartbleed bug presents a real threat to South African consumers' financial information. (Trustwave)

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Cape Town - South African consumers may have had their personal financial information exposed as more details of the Heartbleed bug become apparent, says an expert.

Heartbleed has caused panic among computer security experts, particularly because it is unknown how long the bug may have been exploited to steal encrypted data.

"Heartbleed exposes sensitive data from servers, and in some cases, clients performing SSL-based encryption. That sensitive data could include users' passwords, payment card information, or session identifiers allowing attackers to assume control of a user's account," John Miller, Trustwave Security Research manager told News24.

Trustwave is a security company that specialises in helping organisation fight cybercrime by, among other things, conducting ethical intrusions and monitoring to ensure data fidelity.

Some have argued that despite the vulnerability, the threat is diminished because hackers can only extract small bits of information in an attack.


Miller dismissed this, saying that there were factors that could still make an attack effective.

"Although the attack only reveals a small portion of memory, it can still reveal these sensitive details. Furthermore, the attack is stable - it does not cause the server to crash - which allows an attacker to run it repeatedly. The memory exposed during each attack request can be combined to gain greater context."

Heartbleed exposes a vulnerability in OpenSSL which is used to transmit encrypted data. When you type in "https" in a browser, you expect that the website is secure, but the bug means that hackers could theoretically compromise your financial information.

The flaw allows hackers to steal bits of information from the memory on computers. Though the data packets are small, passwords, logons and credit card numbers are not typically large files.

Miller said that it was unknown how long the bug could have been used to steal information.

"The vulnerability has been present in OpenSSL releases since March of 2012, leaving plenty of time for advanced adversaries to have discovered and abused it.

"Without widespread awareness of the issue there was little reason for anyone to track the types of requests that would have indicated an attack was underway," he added.

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