Heartbleed Saga Goes On as Google Announces BoringSSL

NEWS ANALYSIS: Given the prediction that servers vulnerable to Heartbleed will still be found a decade from now, chances are OpenSSL won't be boring for a while.


Nearly three months after the Heartbleed security vulnerability was first reported, its impact is still being felt. It's the kind of excitement that IT pros don't need.

One month after the Heartbleed vulnerability was disclosed, security researcher Robert Graham reported that he found 318,239 systems still at risk. On June 21, he reported that he found 309,197 servers still vulnerable to Heartbleed.

As the saga surrounding Heartbleed—a security vulnerability in the open-source OpenSSL cryptographic library that was disclosed April 7—continues, Google announced BoringSSL.

For many in the security community, Heartbleed has been an exciting event. That's a situation Google wants to change for its own usage of OpenSSL. On June 20, Google engineer, Adam Langley announced BoringSSL, which is a fork of the OpenSSL code base.

Google is large user of OpenSSL, and along with security firm Codenomicon, is credited with the initial discovery of Heartbleed. Google's use of OpenSSL isn't just for servers; it's also used on the Android mobile operating system, as well.

Google has been contributing patches to the open-source OpenSSL project for years, though not all of them are included in the official project, Langley said. Google runs all its own patches on top of OpenSSL as part of its operations.

"The effort involved in keeping all these patches (and there are more than 70 at the moment) straight across multiple code bases is getting to be too much," Langley wrote in a blog posting. "So we're switching models to one where we import changes from OpenSSL rather than rebasing on top of them."

The BoringSSL fork from Google will still send fixes up to the main open-source project, so this is likely a win-win situation for both Google and OpenSSL.

Long-Term Implications of Heartbleed

What does the fact that a large number of servers are still vulnerable mean?

"This indicates people have stopped even trying to patch," Graham wrote in a blog posting. "We should see a slow decrease over the next decade as older systems are slowly replaced."

The security researcher said he expects to be able to find systems that are vulnerable to Heartbleed a decade from now.

That's shocking. Or is it?

Time and again, when I report on security breaches, the leading culprit is typically unpatched systems. The fact that there are unpatched servers shouldn't necessarily be a surprise, and it's not necessarily the end of the world, either. In some cases, a Web application firewall (WAF) or other network perimeter defense system might be in place to potentially limit the risk of exploitation.

In some cases, the server administrator simply doesn't know there is something that needs to be patched. In those cases, I've often found that it's not just one item that is out-of-date, but several. For those out-of-date servers, I suspect that Heartbleed is just one of many potential paths to exploitation.


Until the Heartbleed news broke, OpenSSL was typically just considered by many to be a solid, stable piece of infrastructure, and that's part of the rationale for Google's OpenSSL project name of BoringSSL. The name BoringSSL "is aspirational and not yet a promise," Langley said.

Given Graham's dire prediction that servers vulnerable to Heartbleed will still be found a decade from now, I personally suspect that OpenSSL will be anything but boring for a while yet.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.