FFIEC Advises Financial Institutions On “Heartbleed” Risks

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On April 10, the FFIEC issued an alert advising financial institutions of risks associated with “Heartbleed”, a recently discovered material security vulnerability in a commonly used encryption method known as the OpenSSL cryptographic library, which has existed since December 31, 2011. The alert states that the vulnerability could allow an attacker to access a server’s private cryptographic keys, thereby compromising the security of the server and its users, and potentially allowing attackers to impersonate bank services or users, steal login credentials, access sensitive email, or gain access to internal networks. Due to OpenSSL’s popularity, this vulnerability affects websites, e-mail servers, web servers, virtual private networks (VPN), instant messaging, and other applications. The FFIEC advises financial institutions to (i) ensure that third party vendors that use OpenSSL on their systems are aware of the vulnerability and take appropriate risk mitigation steps; (ii) monitor the status of their vendors’ efforts; (iii) identify and upgrade vulnerable internal systems and services; and (iv) follow appropriate patch management practices and test to ensure a secure configuration. Patch management, software maintenance, and security update practices are covered by a number of FFIEC IT Examination Handbooks. Finally the FFIEC states that institutions should operate with the assumption that encryption keys used on vulnerable servers are no longer viable for protecting sensitive information and should therefore strongly consider requiring users and administrators to change passwords after applying the patch.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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