What Heartbleed is, and What You Should Do

What is it?

Heartbleed sounds scary by the name alone. It’s all over the news, but just what is it? What should the average Internet user do about it? Heartbleed is complicated and involves some Internet security understanding, but here we’ll strip out most of those details and get to the essentials.

Heartbleed is a bug – a mistake in security code – that has potentially allowed in-the-know hackers to exploit the problem and grab unencrypted usernames, emails, passwords, and other random sensitive information a bit at a time through small packets of data, nicknamed “heartbeats.” The bug has been around for two years, but it was only just discovered by companies Codenomicon and Google.

Who is Affected

Any “secure” website using the security software OpenSSL which had the buggy code (an update within the last two years) could potentially be compromised. Nobody knows for sure if they HAVE been compromised. It is possible that up to two thirds of the web could have this bug. There are a lot of unknowns.

Some big websites may have been affected: Yahoo, Google , and Facebook. Though these websites have already updated their software, they suggest that users still take the time to change their passwords.

Some websites never used the vulnerable software: big banks were less likely to use the open source software, Microsoft said it was unaffected, and LinkedIn seems to have been safe.

Why Should You Be Worried?

You should be worried because if someone has exploited the bug, your usernames, emails, passwords, security questions, and other sensitive information could have been available to malicious users for the past two years. If you use the same passwords (or similar passwords) on multiple sites, this could give them access to those other websites as well.

If a website with the compromised code does not update, they are still an open gate. If a website has updated but you have not changed your password, someone might have that info to use when they see fit – if someone has grabbed that info in the past, they still have it.

We don’t know how extensive the problem is – entire website databases could have been compromised. The good news is that the bug was brought it to our attention rapidly after it was discovered, allowing word to get out before the bug was exploited on a wider scale.


There is only so much a user can do. The biggest problems lie on the website side of things, and it is the responsibility of those website owners to update their keys. If the website has not run updates on their side, the bug can still be exploited even if you change your passwords.

Most big companies updated their software right away and recommend changing your passwords. Unfortunately, not all companies are being clear about whether or not they were vulnerable to the problem, and if they have since patched the bug.

Our recommendations are to do the following:

  • Update your passwords on all of the websites you use, especially ones where you store sensitive or personal information.
  • Make sure all your passwords are different – do not use the same one for each website.
  • Be prepared to change your passwords again in case a site has been slow to update.

Best Practices Going Forward

It’s hard to remember many complicated passwords (and complicated passwords are the most secure), so we recommend using a program like LastPass or KeePass to keep track. While nothing is entirely failsafe, they are a lot more secure than trying to remember many simple passwords or even worse, using the same password everywhere.

It is also good practice to update your passwords periodically.

When, Not If

The internet is complex and only getting more so, and for better or worse much of it is unregulated. When it comes to any kind of security breach or data theft, expect that something could potentially happen, and work out a plan for what to do when it does.

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Common Sites You Should Change Your Passwords For

Password Changes Suggested (They have updated their SSL)

Okay/Don’t need to change passwords*:
Most big banks
Taxes/Accounting sites (except Turbotax)

Unclear: (Have not made an official statement – they claim to be okay, in some cases)

* It can’t hurt to change your passwords anyway. Just be prepared to do it again if necessary.

Technical Details of Heartbleed: http://heartbleed.com/


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