Cybersecurity

DHS: Heartbleed not a threat to federal websites

Heartbleed

The federal government's key public-facing websites are not vulnerable to the Heartbleed OpenSSL security flaw, according to a cybersecurity leader at the Department of Homeland Security.

Larry Zelvin, director of DHS' National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center, wrote in a post today on DHS' blog that "the federal government’s core citizen-facing websites are not exposed to risks from this cybersecurity threat. We are continuing to coordinate across agencies to ensure that all federal government websites are protected from this threat."

Zelvin did not explain how that determination was made, and Web security experts have said exposure to the problem varies depending on sites’ security and architecture.

The Heartbleed flaw, which can be exploited to cripple encryption in Web communications and transactions, has potentially enormous reach, according to Codenomicon, one of the companies that discovered it. Officials posted a notice online earlier this week saying, "Your popular social site, your company's site, commerce site, hobby site, site you install software from or even sites run by your government might be using vulnerable OpenSSL.”

Zelvin said that immediately upon learning of the flaw, the department’s U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team issued an alert to share information with the public and recommend steps to mitigate the threat. At the same time, the department's Industrial Control System Cyber Emergency Response Team published information and reached out to vendors and asset owners to determine the potential vulnerabilities to computer systems that control essential systems -- such as critical infrastructure and financial systems. And the National Coordinating Center for Communications provided situational awareness to the government’s partners in the communications sector.

However, Zelvin cautioned that even though there have been no reports of attacks involving the vulnerability, "it is still possible that malicious actors in cyberspace could exploit unpatched systems."

He advised people to delay changing their online passwords until sites are secured by their owners. He also counseled keeping a close eye on email, bank and social media accounts for abnormal activity, and making sure the HTTPS identifier appears in the address bar when logging onto websites to use credit cards or input other sensitive information.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a staff writer at FCW.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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