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Layered Security Is Key to Avoiding Heartbleed

Why Gazzang services were not impacted by the nasty OpenSSL bug

While organizations spend the next few days and weeks patching OpenSSL vulnerabilities, the realization is setting in that we may never know the full extent of the damage caused by Heartbleed.

Although Heartbleed was only announced in early April, it has actually been present in OpenSSL versions dating back to March 2012. This means hackers have had ample time to steal certificates and other sensitive information. Making matters worse, it's nearly impossible for companies to know whether their web communications have indeed been compromised.

What exactly is being exposed?

When exploited by a hack, Heartbeat (the name of the transport layer security extension where the bug was found) dumps whatever data might reside in the memory of client/server communications in small 64k chunks. Normally this traffic is encrypted, but the bug actually compromises the secret keys, usernames and passwords that protect this data. Leaked keys can lead to insecure web certificates, which could indirectly lead an attacker to usernames and passwords, payment card details, cookies -- essentially any information submitted by other users of the service.

Should I worry about my Gazzang zNcrypt keys being exposed?

No. Gazzang zNcrypt keys are encrypted client-side, so a compromise of the zTrustee server using Heartbleed would never expose any zNcrypt keys. Furthermore, while we use SSL for data-in-transit encryption, the payload of data between client nodes and zTrustee is encrypted with strong crypto libraries like GPG underneath OpenSSL. So we're doubling up the encryption, just for instances like this.

Like many other websites, we have already patched our zTrustee SaaS servers for the Heartbleed vulnerability. We also encourage customers who haven't already done so to upgrade to the latest operating system version and deploy those OS patches as well.

How can I protect my organization against future threats like Heartbleed?

One of the reasons this bug is so widespread is because it exploited a vulnerability in the popular and highly regarded OpenSSL crypto library. In other words, it went after the very service layer that untold numbers of companies use to protect against hackers. Where many of these companies went wrong is they relied on that single layer of security to protect against a network attack.

Multi-factor authentication, which requires a second piece of information to allow access to an account, is one way users can protect email access and other sensitive account information. So in addition to upgrading, patching and maintaining the latest versions of your OS and software, another way to protect your company's data is to deploy multiple layers of cryptography.

I mentioned earlier that we use GPG in addition to SSL for data-in-transit encryption. As another example, our customers use Gazzang zNcrypt to encrypt their data and protect that data by disallowing unauthorized people and processes to access it. The encryption key is then encrypted itself and stored in the zTrustee key manager (along with the master). The data owner can then set a broad range of configurable policies governing who or what can access those keys.

The important thing to remember is that security needs to be applied in layers, and a single layer is never enough. A useful tool to check your SaaS vendors' security is Qualsys SSL Labs test.

What can I do as a consumer?

To start, here are a couple of lists spotlighting companies that use the TLS Heartbeat extension. The best advice is to change your password if a service you use is listed as vulnerable.

More Stories By David Tishgart

After spending years at large corporations including Dell, AMD and BMC, David Tishgart joined the startup ranks leading product marketing for Gazzang. Focused on security for big data, he helps communicate the benefits and challenges that big data can present, offering practical solutions. When not ranting about encryption and key management, you can find David clamoring for a big data application that can fine tune his fantasy football team.

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