SAN FRANCISCO: A confounding computer bug called “Heartbleed” is causing major security headaches across the Internet as websites scramble to fix the problem.
Several tech firms are urging people to change all their passwords to prevent theft of their e-mail accounts, credit card numbers and other sensitive information.
ANICK JESDANUN | AP
The breakdown revealed this week affects a widely used encryption technology that is supposed to protect online accounts for a variety of online communications and electronic commerce.
Security researchers who uncovered the threat are particularly worried about the lapse because it went undetected for more than two years.
They fear the possibility that computer hackers may have been secretly exploiting the problem before its discovery. It’s also possible that no one took advantage of the flaw before its existence was announced late Monday.
The Yahoo blogging platform Tumblr has advised the public to “change your passwords everywhere — especially your high-security services like e-mail, file storage and banking.”
Although there is now a way to close the security hole, there are still plenty of reasons to be concerned, said David Chartier, CEO of Codenomicon.
A small team from the Finnish security firm diagnosed Heartbleed while working independently from another Google Inc. researcher who also discovered the threat.
Google is so confident that it inoculated itself against the Heartbleed bug before any damage could be done. More than 425 million Gmail accounts alone have been set up worldwide.
Facebook, which has more than 1.2 billion account holders, also believes its online social network has purged the Heartbleed threat.
Online short messaging service Twitter Inc. and e-commerce giant Amazon.com Inc. say their websites weren’t exposed to Heartbleed. Ebay Inc., which runs the PayPal payment service as well as online shopping bazaars, says most of its services avoided the bug.
Changing passwords on other online services potentially affected by Heartbleed won’t do much good, security experts said, until the problem is patched. So far, very few websites have acknowledged being afflicted by Heartbleed, although the bug is believed to be widespread.