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Programmer Who Introduced 'Heartbleed' Bug Speaks

Thu, Apr 10, 2014 at 2:04:27 pm

Image via Shutterstock

The Sydney Morning Herald has a piece on the man who made a lot of Internet system administrators' lives miserable this week, the German programmer who introduced the Heartbleed bug into the OpenSSL code.

There's been way too much embarrassing noobish speculation from some quarters of the journalistic arena that the NSA might have planted this bug deliberately, years ago, and has been spying on their emails and cat pictures ever since, but no -- developer Robin Seggelmann says it was "a simple programming error," as I had assumed.

The type of programming mistake he describes is known as a "bounds checking error." They're depressingly common and are often the cause of serious security problems.

Mr Seggelmann, of Münster in Germany, said the bug which introduced the flaw was "unfortunately" missed by him and a reviewer when it was introduced into the open source OpenSSL encryption protocol over two years ago.

"I was working on improving OpenSSL and submitted numerous bug fixes and added new features," he said.

"In one of the new features, unfortunately, I missed validating a variable containing a length."

And about that noobish speculation:

A number of conspiracy theorists have speculated the bug was inserted maliciously.

Mr Seggelmann said it was "tempting" to assume this, especially after the disclosure by Edward Snowden of the spying activities conducted by the US National Security Agency and others.

"But in this case, it was a simple programming error in a new feature, which unfortunately occurred in a security relevant area," he said. "It was not intended at all, especially since I have previously fixed OpenSSL bugs myself, and was trying to contribute to the project."

Despite denying he put the bug into the code intentionally, he said it was entirely possible intelligence agencies had been making use of it over the past two years.

"It is a possibility, and it's always better to assume the worst than best case in security matters, but since I didn't know the bug until it was released and [I am] not affiliated with any agency," Mr Seggelmann said.

Seggelmann is correct on that last point; the really awful part of Heartbleed is that it leaves almost no trace it grabbed everything in your web server's memory. (And I only say "almost no trace" because at this point I don't believe anyone has a system for detecting it, but it might be possible by analyzing server logs.)

Since the bug has been deployed in the OpenSSL service on countless web servers for more than two years, it's not wild speculation to think it's probably already been exploited, and national security services are usually among the first to find these things; but I'm less worried about the NSA than I am about criminal hacking gangs who operate with tacit approval from the Russian and Chinese governments.

And this is a great time to remind everyone that it would be an excellent idea to change your LGF password now (and don't reuse a password you've used somewhere else!), because we have completed all the necessary steps to make sure our servers are no longer vulnerable to this exploit.