Heartbleed: What retailers need to do regardless of vulnerability

17th Apr 2014

Heartbleed: what's the impact for retailers? 

Image credit: Image designed by Codenomicon to represent the Heartbleed bug.

Ten days on from the first revelations about the scope of the Heartbleed bug, My-Retail Media looks at how retailers have been affected, and the measures businesses can take to secure their sites and assure their customers.

Even for the most seasoned of online retailers, getting to grips with the scale of the Heartbleed security bug that was first publicly disclosed on 7 April is nigh-on-impossible. As news of the bug spread, both retailers and consumers turned to experts to break down just what exactly Heartbleed’s impact could be on their e-commerce systems and online accounts. Where you’d often expect some kind of scaleable answer- one in ten businesses affected, only certain platforms should be concerned- instead, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Arts Technica and chief technology of Co3 Systems Bruce Schneier all agreed on one thing: the effects are “catastrophic”.

As one of the most widely used encryption tools on the internet, believed to be deployed by around two thirds of all websites, OpenSSL is recognisable to most consumers by the small padlock symbol in their browser- a signal that OpenSSL technology is probably in use.

"The Heartbleed bug allows anyone to read the memory of the systems protected by the vulnerable versions of the OpenSSL software,” Schneier explained earlier this week. “This compromises the secret keys used to identify the service providers and to encrypt the traffic, the name and passwords of the users and the actual content.”
"This allows attackers to eavesdrop communications, steal data directly from the services and users and to impersonate services and users," he added.

As a security bug in the open-source OpenSSL cryptography library, it’s thought some 17 per cent of the Internet’s secure web servers certified by trusted authorities were believed to be vulnerable to the attack, allowing theft of the servers’ private keys and users’ session cookies and passwords.

There’s no two ways around this- Heartbleed does affect millions of ecommerce websites. As it is reported to go widely undetected, the best way to determine if your ecommerce platform is vulnerable is to use the Heartbleed Test. If your platform hasn’t been affected, there’s other steps to take to ensure you won’t be made vulnerable in the future, and to assure your customers of their safety when shopping online. My-Retail Media spoke to Trust Shops, the leading service provider for secure online shopping in Europe to find out the next stages of action:

“The so-called Heartbleed bug has put customer’s private information and payment card numbers at risk. It may have affected up to two-thirds of web servers worldwide, including online merchants large and small.

“In the worst of cases, this Internet security flaw implies that online retailers, who were doing everything right and required to protect customer data, may have still been exposing sensitive information to nearly any hacker.”

Retailers, and particularly online sellers, can protect their customers from the Heartbleed bug using the following steps outlined by Trusted Shops:

1) Check if your site is affected; https://lastpass.com/heartbleed/
2) If not affected, email all your customers to reassure them that your website IS and HAS been safe.
3) If your site is affected, issue a dedicated email newsletter to inform customers about any security breaches and highlighting the steps they need to take in terms of changing any passwords.
4) On existing customer accounts, add a prompt next time they visit encouraging them to change their password

As with Paypal and eBay’s statements earlier in the week, Trusted Shops argue that showing customers you are being pro-active is key to reassuring them and rebuilding trust- “Even if Heartbleed has not affected your website, your customers do not know. So make sure you tell them!”

Ava Szajna

My-Retail Media

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