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Executive Editor

That Heartbleed problem may be more pervasive than you think

Jan 27, 20173 mins
Data BreachSecurity

Commercial software may not be free of the flaw

 That lingering Heartbleed flaw recently discovered in 200,000 devices is more insidious than that number indicates.

According to a report posted by Shodan, the Heartbleed vulnerability first exposed in April 2014 was still found in 199,594 internet-accessible devices during a scan it performed last weekend.

But according to open-source security firm Black Duck, about 11% of more than 200 applications it audited between Oct. 2015 and March 2016 contained the flaw, which enables a buffer overread that endangers data from clients and servers running affected versions of OpenSSL.

The company’s vice president of security strategy Mike Pittenger says it’s likely most of those machines have been remediated, but it doesn’t address the countless other applications – commercial and proprietary – Black Duck didn’t audit. “It is significant, to be sure, he says. “However, I would not extrapolate that to say 11% of all commercial applications were vulnerable to Heartbleed at that time.” 

That 11% is a number from the company’s last published report. In a new report due out next month that hasn’t been wrapped up yet, that number is likely to dip into the single digits, but is still significant.

The problem is that commercial software in general uses a great deal of open source code – 35% on average – and authors of the code don’t necessarily have processes in place to track when vulnerabilities are found in that code and to then patch them, he says.

He says Black Duck’s study finds that two-thirds of these applications have open-source vulnerabilities of one kind or another and that they average 5 years old.

In regard to Heartbleed in particular, he says the reports draw on anonymized data about its audits so they don’t reveal the specific applications in which the Heartbleed vulnerability was found.

Running vulnerable applications in a regulated environment could have consequences for the enterprises using them, he says, because the security threat they represent could violate HIPAA or PCI security and privacy requirements.

The Shodan report on the prevalence of Heartbleed showed that the individual entities hosting the largest number of Heartbleed-vulnerable devices were service providers. That may be because these machines were set up a while ago and are no longer in use but were never taken offline, Pittenger says. For example more than 5,163 were on Amazon Web Services and many may be instances set up on the fly by development teams that never bothered to shut them down when they were done using them.