[Arbor] Information Disclosure Vulnerability in OpenSSL (Heartbleed)


A very serious vulnerability present in OpenSSL 1.0.1 for two years has been disclosed (CVE-2014-0160). This “Heartbleed” vulnerability allows an attacker to reveal up to 64kb of memory to a connected client or server. This buffer-over-read vulnerability can be used in rapid succession to exfiltration larger sections of memory, potentially exposing private keys, usernames and passwords, cookies, session tokens, email, or any other data that resides in the affected memory region. This flaw does not affect versions of OpenSSL prior to 1.0.1.  This is an extremely serious situation, which highlights the manual nature of the tasks required to secure critical Internet services such as basic encryption and privacy protection.

As the vulnerability has been present for over two years, many modern operating systems and applications have deployed vulnerable versions of OpenSSL. OpenSSL is the default cryptographic library for Apache and nginx Web server applications, which together account for an estimated two-thirds of all Web servers. OpenSSL is also used in a variety of operating systems, including BSD variants such as FreeBSD, and Linux distributions such as Ubuntu, CENTOS, Fedora and more. Other networking gear such as load-balancers, reverse proxies, VPN concentrators, and various types of embedded devices are also potentially vulnerable if they rely on OpenSSL, which many do. Additionally, since the vulnerability’s disclosure, several high-profile sites such as Yahoo Mail, Lastpass, and the main FBI site have reportedly leaked information. Others have discussed the impact on underground economy crime forums, which were reportedly vulnerable to the matter and were attacked.

A key lesson is that OpenSSL, which is a vital component of the confidentiality and integrity of uncounted systems, applications and sites across the Internet, is an underfunded, volunteer-run project, which is desperately in need of major sponsorship and attendant allocation of resources.


Anyone running OpenSSL on a server should upgrade to version 1.0.1g. For earlier versions, re-compiling with the OPENSSL_NO_HEARTBEATS flag enabled will mitigate this vulnerability. For OpenSSL 1.0.2, the vulnerability will be fixed in 1.0.2-beta2. In terms of remediation, there’s a huge amount of work that must be done, not only for servers, but also for load-balancers, reverse proxies, VPN concentrators, various types of embedded devices, etc.  Applications which were statically compiled against vulnerable versions of the underlying OpenSSL libraries must be re-complied; private keys must be invalidated, re-generated, and re-issued; certificates must be invalidated, re-generated, and re-issued – and there are a whole host of problems and operational challenges associated with these vital procedures. Some systems may be difficult to patch, so network access control restrictions or the deployment of non-vulnerable proxies may be considered where possible to reduce the attack surface.


In most cases, exploitation of this vulnerability leaves no sign in server logs, making it difficult for organizations to know if they have been compromised. In addition, even after applying the OpenSSL patch, private keys, passwords, authentication credentials or any other data that was stored in heap memory used by OpenSSL may have already been compromised by attackers, potentially going as far back as two years. Of significant concern is the compromise of private key material, and one security organization reported that they were able to obtain this material during testing. Others reported difficulty in obtaining certificate material but were able to discover significant amounts of other sensitive data. Considering how easy it is for attackers to hammer this vulnerability over and over again in a very quick sequence, the amount of memory being disclosed can be quite substantial. Memory contents will vary depending on program state and controlling what is returned and what position in memory the contents are read from is much like a game of roulette.

Risk to Private Key Material

Security researchers in a Twitter exchange starting on April 8 2014 indicate that private keys have been extracted in testing scenarios, and other researchers suggest that attacking the servers during or just after log rotation and restart scripts run could expose private key material. This allegation has not been tested by ASERT.

For further details, please see the Twitter thread athttps://twitter.com/1njected/status/453781230593769472


Incident Response and Attack Tools

While there has been some call to avoid over-reaction, organizations should strongly consider revoking and reissue certificates and private keys; otherwise, attackers can continue to use private keys they may have obtained to impersonate Websites and/or launch man-in-the-middle attacks. Users should change usernames and passwords as well, but should not enter login credentials on Websites with vulnerable OpenSSL deployments. To do so could invite attackers to compromise both the old and new credentials if they were exposed in memory.

Many tools have been made available to test for the vulnerability and these same tools are available for attackers to use as well. It is also reasonable to consider that the password reuse problem will again cause additional suffering, because the same passwords shared across multiple systems create an extension of attack surface. A shared password that provides access to a sensitive system, or to an e-mail account used for password resets, can be all that an attacker needs to infiltrate an organizations defenses along multiple fronts.

Multiple proof-of-concept exploits have already been published, and a Metasploit module has been published. Attackers of all shapes and sizes have already started using these tools or are developing their own to target vulnerable OpenSSL servers. There have been reports that scanning for vulnerable OpenSSL servers began before the disclosure of the bug was made public, although other reports suggest that these scans may not have been specifically targeting the Heartbleed vulnerability.

ATLAS Indicates Scanning Activity

ASERT has observed an increase in scanning activity on tcp/443 from our darknet monitoring infrastructure, over the past several days, most notably from Chinese IP addresses (Figure 1, below). Two IP addresses ( and observed scanning tcp/443have been blacklisted by Spamhaus for exploit activity. Scans from Chinese sources are predominately coming from AS4143 (CHINANET-BACKBONE) and AS23724 (CHINANET-IDC-BJ-AP).

Figure 1:       TCP/443 scans, Tuesday – Wednesday (April 8-9)



Attacks observed by ASERT decreased by Thursday as of this report writing. China still accounted for the largest percentage of detected scan activity:

Figure 2:       TCP/443 scans, Thursday (April 10)



Pravail Security Analytics Detection Capabilities

Arbors Pravail Security Analytics system provides detection for this vulnerability using the following rules:

2018375 ­ ET CURRENT_EVENTS TLS HeartBeat Request (Server Intiated)

2018376 ­ ET CURRENT_EVENTS TLS HeartBeat Request (Client Intiated)

2018377 ­ ET CURRENT_EVENTS Possible OpenSSL HeartBleed Large HeartBeat
Response (Client Init Vuln Server)

2018378 ­ ET CURRENT_EVENTS Possible OpenSSL HeartBleed Large HeartBeat
Response (Server Init Vuln Client)

Examples of detection capabilities are reproduced below.


Heartbleed detection tool screenshot

Heartbleed detection tool screenshot

Analysis of Historical Packet Captures Using New Indicators

In the event of this, and other security threats that are highly emergent, organizations may wish to consider implementing analysis capabilities on archived packet captures in order to detect first signs of attack activity. Granular analysis using fresh indicators can help pinpoint where and when a targeted attack (or a commodity malware attack, for that matter) may have first entered the network, or when such attackers may have exfiltrated data using a technique that was not yet being detected on the wire during the time of the initial attack and infiltration. The capabilities of Pravail Security Analytics will give organizations the means to accomplish such an analysis. A free account is available at https://www.pravail.com/ and rest assured that this site is using the latest non-vulnerable OpenSSl version.

Longer-Term Implications and Lessons Learned
Serious questions have been raised regarding the notification process surrounding this vulnerability.  The operational community at large have voiced serious disapproval surrounding the early notification of a single content delivery network (CDN) provider, while operating system vendors and distribution providers, not to mention the governmental and financial sectors, were left in the dark and discovered this issue only after it was publicly disclosed via a marketing-related weblog post by the CDN vendor in question.  It has been suggested that the responsible disclosure best practices developed and broadly adopted by the industry over the last decade were in fact bypassed in this case, and concerns have been voiced regarding the propriety and integrity of the disclosure process in this instance.

Recent indications that a significant number of client applications may be utilizing vulnerable versions of OpenSSL as well has broad implications, given the propensity of non-specialist users to ignore software updates and to continue unheedingly running older versions of code.

Furthermore, only ~6% of TLS-enabled Websites (and an undetermined, but most probably even-smaller percentage of other types of systems) make use of Perfect Forward Secrecy (PFS). This configurable option ensures that if an issue of this nature arises, previously encrypted traffic retained in packet captures isn’t susceptible to retrospective cryptanalysis.

Without PFS, there are no automated safeguards that can ameliorate these issues, once a vulnerability of this nature has been exposed.  Many operators and users may not realize that if attackers captured packets of encrypted traffic in the past from vulnerable services/applications which weren’t configured with PFS – i.e., the overwhelming majority of such systems – and have retained those captured packets, they’ve the opportunity now to use analysis tools to replay those packets and decrypt the Internet traffic contained in those packets. This means that attackers can potentially unearth their credentials, intellectual property, personal financial information, etc. with access to previously captured packet-dumps.

The ability for an attacker to decrypt packet capture archives requires that the attacker has obtained the private keys used to encrypt that traffic. As recent research shows, this is not a theoretical vulnerability – private key material has been compromised in a lab environment and therefore we must assume that attackers have at least the same, if not more substantial capabilities.

The ‘Heartbleed’ vulnerability may well result in an underground market in ‘vintage’ packet captures – i.e., packet captures performed after the date this vulnerability was introduced into OpenSSL, and prior to some date in the future after which it is presumed that the most ‘interesting’ servers, services, applications, and devices have been remediated.

This incident has the potential to evolve into a massive 21st-Century, criminalized, Internet-wide version of the Venona Project, targeting the entire population of Internet users who had the ill fortune to unknowingly make use of encrypted applications or services running vulnerable versions of OpenSSL. This highlights the paradox of generalized cryptographic systems in use over the Internet today.

While the level of complexity required to correctly design and implement cryptosystems means that in most situations, developers should utilize well-known cryptographic utilities and libraries such as OpenSSL, the dangers of a cryptographic near-monoculture have been graphically demonstrated by the still-evolving Heartbleed saga.  Further complicating the situation is the uncomfortable fact that enterprises, governments, and individuals have been reaping the benefits of the work of the volunteer OpenSSL development team without contributing the minimal amounts time, effort, and resources to ensure that this vital pillar of integrity and confidentiality receives the necessary investment required to guarantee its continued refinement and validation.

This is an untenable situation, and it is clear that the current development model for OpenSSL is unsustainable in the modern era of widespread eavesdropping and rapid exploitation of vulnerabilities by malefactors of all stripes. Information on how to support the OpenSSl effort can be found here: https://www.openssl.org/support/

Heartbleed and AvailabilityWhile Heartbleed is a direct threat to confidentiality, there are also potential implications for availability.

In some cases, attackers seeking exploitable hosts scan and/or try to exploit this vulnerability so aggressively that they inadvertently DoS the very hosts they’re seeking to compromise. Organizations should be cognizant of this threat and ensure that the appropriate availability protections are in place so that their systems can be defended against both deliberate and inadvertent DDoS attacks.

It should also be noted that initial experimentation seems to indicate that it’s easiest for attackers to extract the private keys from vulnerable OpenSSL-enabled applications and services, using the least amount of exploit traffic, immediately after they have been started.  Accordingly, organizations should be prepared to defend against DDoS attacks intended to cause state exhaustion and service unavailability for SSL-enabled servers, load-balancers, reverse proxies, VPN concentrators, etc.  The purpose of such DDoS attacks would be to force targeted organizations to re-start these services in order to recover from the DDoS attacks, thus providing the attackers with a greater chance of capturing leaked private keys.

http://www.seacat.mobi/blog/heartbleed Note: This event may have been a false positive caused by ErrataSec’s masscan software (http://blog.erratasec.com/2014/04/no-we-werent-scanning-for-hearbleed.html)

Venona Project: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venona>
PFS: https://community.qualys.com/blogs/securitylabs/2013/08/05/configuring-apache-nginx-and-openssl-for-forward-secrecy