In the race to protect themselves from the Heartbleed vulnerability, enterprises could be opening themselves up to new attacks if they aren't careful.
Perpetrators of some of the most virulent cyberattacks on the Internet will try to take advantage of the chaos that's bound to occur in some IT shops as administrators and developers hurriedly respond to Heartbleed, the widespread OpenSSL flaw that was discovered last week, a top researcher at Kaspersky Lab said.
Heartbleed could allow attackers to capture critical data such as passwords and encryption keys from servers and networking devices. It existed in the OpenSSL (Secure Sockets Layer) tool for encrypted communications for about two years before being disclosed on April 7. Since then, organizations have been scrambling to update their OpenSSL software, revoke old digital certificates, reissue private encryption keys and restart services.
That's an attractive environment for groups pushing out APTs (advanced persistent threats), which can cause widespread damage and data theft, said Kurt Baumgartner, principal security researcher on Kaspersky's Global Research & Analysis Team.
"This was all urgent, this is all unexpected, and what happens when people are in a situation where things are unexpected and urgent? Well, they break rules," Baumgartner said.
As the repairs take place, administrators must pay attention to details such as where their certificates are being stored, he said.
"This is the sort of time when groups like these ... can start pulling more of these assets out of the organization without it being noticed," Baumgartner said. Misplaced certificates that get stolen could allow attackers to infiltrate systems later. That's exactly what will happen in some cases, he said.
"I would expect to see the results of some of this theft in the next six months to a year," Baumgartner said.
APTs are the most serious security threats on the Internet, typically developed and spread by expert hackers who in some cases may actually work for national governments, according to Baumgartner. At a Kaspersky conference in San Francisco on Tuesday, he listed the five most dangerous APTs as Red October, NetTraveler, Icefog and Careto, and a group called Winnti that primarily targets the game industry.
Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org