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Heartbleed and certifications

heartbleed

Before we go any further let me clarify that this is not just another heartbleed post. If you are interested in details there is plenty of information available here, here, and here.

More importantly if you want to know whether your webserver/website is vulnerable you can test it here or on your webserver you can do the following:

echo B | openssl s_client –connect $HOST:$PORT

If you see “heartbeating” at the end, then $HOST is vulnerable.

With that out of the way, let me get to the point of this post. This morning as I was reading up on the coverage this vulnerability has gotten (which is a good thing) it struck me how this situation reaffirms the case that standards based certifications are useful and some of the bad rap it gets is misplaced. I know, you are wondering what I had to drink this morning (and whatever it was, you want some), but hear me out.

The heartbleed vulnerability was introduced in openSSL v1.0.1 which introduced the heartbeat functionality for TLS connections. This version was released on March 14, 2012. So, for a little over two years this code was out there being looked at by many smart security researchers and being used in hundreds of thousands of products. It took two years for this bug to be found even with so many eyes looking at the code, tests being run, and sanity checks being performed.

Critics of standards based certifications complain that the certifications are useless because they do not catch real world vulnerabilities. To them, I point to above. If it takes two years and thousands of man hours before such a bug is caught, is it realistic to expect that certifications that operate on limited budgets and constrained timelines catch bugs such as these? It is just not practical.

Standards based certifications are meant to be validation of the use of best practices that must be followed by all developers and product vendors. It is meant to ensure that you, the developer, is doing the right thing and not something stupid. It is meant to raise the bar of the security posture of a product while balancing real world priorities such as costs, time, and effort. So while certifications will not catch bugs such as hearbleed, they will ensure that you do not leave plaintext keys unprotected, you will employ good password hygiene, and your crypto algorithms are working correctly.

That said, not for a minute am I saying certifications is perfect. Gosh, having been in the certifications world for over a decade there are so many things that can be improved upon (saved for a later post!) but I am saying that it is better to have certifications and ensure base requirements are being met by all products than not to have anything and be the wild wild west!
So, what do you think? Does the Heartbleed bug provide an opportunity to examine and accentuate the value that certifications bring? Or does this and other similar vulnerabilities highlight the weaknesses of product certification? Or maybe something in between? Let us know what you think!

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