A confounding computer bug called “Heartbleed” is causing major security headaches across the Internet as websites scramble to fix the problem and Web surfers wonder whether they should change their passwords to prevent theft of their email accounts, credit-card numbers and other sensitive information.
The breakdown revealed this week affects a widely used encryption technology that is supposed to protect online accounts for a variety of online communications and electronic commerce.
Security researchers who uncovered the threat are particularly worried about the lapse because it went undetected for more than two years. They fear the possibility that computer hackers may have been secretly exploiting the problem before its discovery. It’s also possible that no one took advantage of the flaw before its existence was announced late Monday.
Canada’s tax agency isn’t taking any chances. Citing the security risks posed by Heartbleed, the Canada Revenue Agency shut off public access to its website “to safeguard the integrity of the information we hold,” according to a notice posted on its website Wednesday. The agency said it hopes to re-open its website this weekend. The lockdown comes just three weeks from Canada’s April 30 deadline for filing 2013 tax returns.
The U.S. Internal Revenue Service said in a statement Wednesday that it’s not affected by the security hole.
TurboTax, the most- popular tax-preparation software, also issued a statement Wednesday reassuring people that its website is now protected against Heartbleed.
Computer security experts still are advising people to consider changing all their online passwords.
Google is so confident that it inoculated itself against the Heartbleed bug before any damage could be done that the Mountain View, Calif., company is telling its users they don’t have to change the passwords they use to access Gmail, YouTube and other product accounts. More than 425 million Gmail accounts alone have been set up worldwide.
Facebook also believes its online social network has purged the Heartbleed threat. But the Menlo Park, Calif., company encouraged “people to take this opportunity to follow good practices and set up a unique password for your Facebook account that you don’t use on other sites.”
Twitter Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. say their websites weren’t exposed to Heartbleed. Ebay Inc., which runs the PayPal payment service as well as online shopping bazaars, says most of its services avoided the bug.
Changing passwords on other online services potentially affected by Heartbleed won’t do much good, security experts said, until the problem is patched.