Just a few months after Heartbleed was discovered and (thankfully) resolved, another OpenSSL bug is haunting web encryptions. The new bug SSL/TLS MITM was posted by the OpenSSL group in a formal advisory on Thursday. On the bright side, it's not as bad as Heartbleed, but its not-so-catchy name and lack of publicity means it will be tough for the public to tackle as quickly.
When Heartbleed was discovered, it was branded as a major issue very quickly and became somewhat of an epidemic, complete with its own website, a scary name, and creepy logo. SSL/TLS MITM (which I'm going to call SSL until someone names it something like Skinburn or Tummyache) is on a smaller scale than Heartbleed.
It affects the "handshake" process of encryption: the point when the client and the server make a connection, and determine they both agree to encrypt the data. A smart hacker can use the vulnerability to attack the handshake, making it weak. Think of someone pouring oil on both palms, so the hands can't meet and shake properly. Then, the hacker has access to unencrypted data and can modify traffic to both the client and server. Poof, encryption is gone.
Encryption is pretty important. It's basically what keeps your content safe online. The easiest way to understand the impact of an encryption OpenSSL vulnerability is by looking at unencrypted emails. When you send an email about shopping to a friend, then see an ad for the product you talk about buying in your email, that's the product of an unencrypted email. Promoting encrypted emails is so important that Google was willing to take a hit on the targeted email advertising money to boost digital safety.
So, how bad is SSL? Well, its been around for fifteen years (yikes), but it doesn't affect all browsers. Chrome, Firefox, IE and Safari aren't at risk. But Chrome on Android could be. It's based on whether the server uses the OpenSSL protocol. We'll be keeping an eye on this as it develops, but rest assured this isn't Heartbleed 2.0 and patches are in the works.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.