by John Brandon

The Next Heartbleed: 5 Security Vulnerabilities to Watch

Jun 09, 20144 mins
CybercrimeData and Information SecurityData Breach

By and large, the major websites hit by Heartbleed have recovered. So have the bad guys, who are undoubtedly plotting their next move. Here, security experts offer their take on five large-scale, Heartbleed-level vulnerabilities for which CIOs should prepare.n

IT executives know one thing about security: Be prepared. Over the past few months, many large companies had to deal with the Heartbleed virus, which is capable of stealing logins and passwords on Internet servers.


But what comes next? asked security companies, consultants and IT experts to discuss other potential flaws that are ripe for exploit. These five should catch your attention.

[ Related: ‘Elderwood’ Hackers Continue to Set Pace for Zero-day Exploits ]

[ How-to: Enterprise Bug Bounty Programs Bring Big Savings, Better Security ]

1. Apache: Hitting ‘Heartbeat’ of the Internet

Several analysts mentioned a threat related to the Apache server, essentially the heartbeat of the Internet. (Apache servers control how Web addressing works.) “Apache has massive market penetration, runs across a variety of OS platforms and is also maintained by the open source community,” says security analyst Troy Hunt. “A previously undisclosed flaw, such as a local file inclusion risk, could enable an attacker to pull arbitrary files from the system.”

[ More: DoS Vulnerability Puts Apache Tomcat Servers At Risk ]

2. Programming Backdoors: Easy Access for Admins — and Hackers

When developers create software that runs at a retail store or as a custom app for the marketing team, they sometimes leave a “backdoor” method to authenticate without using the proper login system. Hackers could exploit this, says Vince Berk, the CEO of FlowTraq, a network security company. While programmers leave the door open for testing the app, they might not realize how a hacker could gain access to the entire network.

[ Not Just Software: Cisco Systems and Netgear Hit by Router Backdoor Exploits ]

3. Amazon Web Services: Large Installed Base a Threat?

You don’t hear about this one as a threat, but Tom Smith, the vice president of business development and strategy of CloudEntr at Gemalto, a cloud security company, says AWS is a prime target because it’s so widely used.

Today, AWS represents the underlying infrastructure that serves hundreds of thousands of customers in more than 190 countries, including giants such as Airbnb and Adobe. While the service has been used to launch attacks in the past, the hackers didn’t break into the Amazon servers. Rather, they signed up for the service just as a legitimate company would, but used fake account information. As far as we know, there are no known vulnerabilities with the AWS infrastructure today, but Smith says the hosting service’s large market footprint will make them a persistent target for attack from cyber-criminals going forward. Much like Heartbleed, if the AWS service or underlying infrastructure were somehow compromised, it would offer back door access to some of the world’s largest SaaS companies and their customers.

[ Then Again … What the CIA Private Cloud Really Says About Amazon Web Services ]

4. RAM Scraping: Steal Data at Point of De-encryption

One of the great challenges of IT is that, to protect a storage medium or service, companies use encryption. However, at some point — to gain entry, say, or process a transaction — data must be unencrypted, usually to RAM.

Dave Frymier, CISO of Unisys, says a hacker could “scrape” RAM to steal the data as it sits in an unencrypted state. (That’s what happened to Target.) “This RAM scraping issue is one of the reasons we don’t see greater adoption of public cloud computing in regulated industries,” he says.

[ Analysis: Is the Federal Government Ready to Embrace the Cloud? ]

5. PHP: Popularity Could Be Its Downfall

Yes, Heartbleed attacked the OpenSSL library that accounts for about 60 percent of all Web servers. However, PHP is an even great target, as it’s used on 80 percent of today’s servers. What’s more, the server-side scripting language is easy to use for new Web programmers who might not be thinking about security.

Barry Shteiman, the director of security strategy at Imperva, a data center security company, says hackers could even create a bug and try to sell it to the highest bidder, pinging off the news that put many companies into a recent tailspin with Heartbleed.

[ Tips: How to Test the Security Savvy of Your Staff ]

[ More: Heartbleed’s Silver Lining: Users Getting Smarter ]

John Brandon is a former IT manager at a Fortune 100 company who now writes about technology. He has written more than 2,500 articles in the past 10 years. You can follow him on Twitter @jmbrandonbb. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn.