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The Next Massive Security Flaw You Should Worry About: Bash

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Yes, you should be very concerned about Shellshock, the latest software bug to arise with the potential to degrade the overall safety of the Internet by several notches.

Shellshock, also referred to as Bash, is a glaring weakness in an otherwise innocuous bit of coding that’s been around since 1987. Bash, shorthand for Bourne Again Shell, is a program that allows you to type commands on computing devices that use the Unix, Linux, Apple Mac and Android operating systems. You’ve encountered  Bash if you’ve ever typed text commands on the black screen sitting behind the graphical interface of your computing device.

The existence of the Shellshock flaw was made public last week, riveting the attention of the global security community. It’s almost certain elite hacking groups have been aware of the vulnerability for some time, and have been taking advantage.

And now the rest of the cyber underground can make hay. The mad scramble is on. Much as they did earlier this year upon disclosure of the Heartbleed bug, companies of all sizes must identify and patch systems exposed to the Shellshock flaw.

“It’s at least equal to Heartbleed for sure,” says Garve Hays, software architect at NetIQ. “Heartbleed was ephemeral, you could gather personal data and move on. But with Shellshock, you can plant a backdoor on a server and stay there for years. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.”

Apache Servers Targeted

White hat researchers have begun probes to find vulnerable systems. The biggest, most obvious targets are Apache web servers. These Linux-based machines are used to run about one-third of the websites on the Internet.

“System administrators will be working long shifts to go through every single server, router and other piece of equipment that uses the Bash shell,” says Jerome Segura, senior security researcher at Malwarebytes Labs.

Big enterprises have the resources and motivation to expedite patching. But hundreds of thousands of small and medium sized businesses will be slow to patch, or never patch at all. In the meantime, every hacker from script kiddies to spammers to account hijackers can now do simple reconnaissance to find and infect unpatched Apache web servers and related networking equipment.

“It’s a race against time,” Segura says. “The bad guys are hard at work trying to hack into affected systems.”

That’s just the first wave. Another obvious target that hacking gangs surely will triangulate are the routers used in home networks and small businesses. Up until about two years ago, Bash was widely used in Linksys, Belkin and many other brands of consumer-grade routers, says NetIQ’s Hays.

Home Routers Ripe for Attack

So if you’re using an older router in a home or small business setting, you should assume the bad guys will soon turn their attention toward seeking out your unpatched router and taking control of it — because it’s simple and profitable to do so.

Bash also comes into play on certain Apple Macs, and certain older versions of Android handsets. Apple issued a statement saying the majority of Mac OSX users are safe from Bash exploits.

Even so, it will take some time to determine the full extent of the ramifications of this flaw, says Dr. Mike Lloyd, CTO of RedSeal Networks.

“It’s relatively easy to tell whether the flaw is present, but it’s hard to tell if it’s reachable,” Lloyd says. “The maze of software and configuration interactions is too complicated for a human analyst to be able to say categorically ‘the cheese is exposed, or is not exposed, to the rat.’”

So what can individuals and companies do? Pay close heed to patches and get them installed. Tools are readily available to check whether your network is using a vulnerable version of Bash, says Jeff Schilling, CSO at FireHost.

Advised Schilling: “Step one is to figure out if you have any systems that are vulnerable. If so, how many? Step two is to figure out how to put a compensating control in place to buy time to wait for a patch. Step three, patch your systems in a methodical manner to ensure your most important servers are fixed first.”

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