What is Heartbleed Virus, And How to Remove It?

Heartbleed was a significant vulnerability found in certain versions of OpenSSL, an open-source cryptographic library. Discovered by researchers in April 2014, it allowed attackers to read up to 64 kilobytes of memory per attack on connected servers or clients. This flaw, known as CVE-2014-0160, exploited OpenSSL’s Heartbeat Extension for TLS and DTLS protocols, hence earning its name “Heartbleed.” It was promptly patched later that month to mitigate the risk of data exposure and unauthorized access.

What is Heartbleed Virus

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What is Heartbleed Virus?

Heartbleed, a critical internet security flaw found in the OpenSSL cryptographic software library, poses a significant risk to vital online communication protocols like TLS and SSL. These protocols play a crucial role in safeguarding web applications, emails, messaging, and VPNs. Cybercriminals exploit Heartbleed to trick vulnerable SSL/TLS servers into revealing confidential information, including usernames and passwords.

Despite its complex technical origins, the name “Heartbleed” stems from the TLS heartbeat extension (RFC6520) within OpenSSL. This extension is meant to verify the connection between two devices by exchanging encoded data. However, Heartbleed exposes a flaw in this heartbeat code, allowing attackers to intercept sensitive data during this connection check.

How Does Heartbleed Bug Work?

Heartbleed operates by exploiting a crucial vulnerability: the OpenSSL library fails to verify the accuracy of the length information in heartbeat requests. This flaw allows attackers to deceive the target server into granting access to its private memory. To grasp how this works, let’s walk through a typical scenario involving OpenSSL.

Imagine you’re checking your Yahoo mail, and your browser sends a message to Yahoo’s server, essentially saying, “Here’s a 40 KB message. Send it back to me.” This message, known as a heartbeat request, includes information about its length. Upon receiving this message, Yahoo’s server allocates a memory buffer equal to the reported length (40 KB in our example), stores the encrypted data, then sends it back to your browser. The purpose of this exchange is to verify the connection.

However, the Heartbleed vulnerability arises because OpenSSL’s implementation of the heartbeat feature lacks a critical safeguard: it fails to verify the actual length of the request. So, if the request claims to be 40 KB but is only 20 KB, the server still allocates a 40 KB memory buffer. It stores the received 20 KB and inadvertently sends back an additional 20 KB of data from the next memory segment. 

This extra data could contain sensitive information, as data persists in memory buffers until overwritten. Consequently, attackers exploit this flaw to extract information from the web server, compromising its security.

What Causes Heartbleed?

Heartbleed happened because of badly written code. Google and Codenomicon security researchers found it on the same day. They saw that attackers could use it to reveal secret info like passwords and private keys. About 66% of all active websites used OpenSSL at that time. Experts said Heartbleed was one of the worst bugs ever on the internet.

Is Heartbleed Virus Dangerous?

Heartbleed poses a serious threat because it allows attackers to access the contents of the memory buffer, which may contain sensitive data. Although attackers cannot predict what they will find in the grabbed 20 KB, the possibilities are concerning. They could stumble upon SSL private keys, granting them the ability to decrypt secure communications—a jackpot for attackers. More commonly, they might discover usernames and passwords submitted to applications and services, enabling unauthorized access to user accounts.

Heartbleed Vulnerability: Impact on Affected Users

Heartbleed has affected users in various ways, with real-world exploits coming to light after the vulnerability was made public. While it’s uncertain if any attacks occurred before widespread awareness of the bug, there were indications of probing for the vulnerability as early as 2013, potentially by government security agencies.

Following Codenomicon’s public disclosure of the vulnerability in April 2014, there was a flurry of activity as companies rushed to update their systems. For example, Yahoo and OKCupid users were advised not to log into their accounts until the services patched their OpenSSL installations. These users were then urged to change their passwords once access was restored.

Despite efforts by major companies to address the issue promptly, hackers managed to exploit the vulnerability in several instances. Heartbleed was implicated in an attack on Community Health Systems, resulting in the theft of patient data. Additionally, hundreds of social ID numbers were stolen from the Canadian Revenue Agency in another incident attributed to Heartbleed.

How to Detect Heartbleed Bug?

As a system administrator, there are various methods you can employ to detect the Heartbleed vulnerability:

  • Utilize vulnerability scanners: These tools can help identify if your system is running a vulnerable version of OpenSSL.
  • Leverage online SSL/TLS testing tools: Check your website’s SSL/TLS configuration for Heartbleed and other potential vulnerabilities using these online tools.
  • Verify OpenSSL version: Ensure you’re not using OpenSSL versions 1.0.1 through 1.0.1f and 1.0.2-beta, as these are susceptible to Heartbleed.
  • Use network monitoring tools: Monitor network activity for any unusual patterns that could indicate a Heartbleed exploit.
  • Conduct penetration testing: Test your system’s defenses against potential Heartbleed attacks to identify weaknesses.
  • Employ automated patch management tools: These tools can detect vulnerabilities like Heartbleed and automatically apply the latest security patches to protect your system.

By combining these methods, you can effectively detect the Heartbleed bug in your system and enhance overall cybersecurity within your organization or business.

How to Fix Heartbleed Bug?

When the Heartbleed vulnerability came to light, OpenSSL developers quickly released a security patch. They urged system administrators and organizations to promptly update their OpenSSL to the latest version. Additionally, developers recommended conducting security audits to identify potential risks and advised revoking and reissuing SSL certificates as a precautionary measure against the attack.

Websites and businesses using the vulnerable OpenSSL version advised their users to change their passwords after applying the patch. This precaution was taken due to concerns that hackers might have gained access to user credentials during the vulnerability period.

Heartbleed Attack Prevention

To safeguard your sensitive data from Heartbleed, it’s essential to maintain your OpenSSL software library properly. Follow these guidelines to bolster the security of your encrypted data:

  • Keep OpenSSL Updated: Ensure that all your web servers and applications run on secure versions of OpenSSL. Check for vulnerable versions (1.0.1 to 1.0.1f and 1.0.2-beta) and upgrade to patched versions like 1.0.1g or higher.
  • Update Passwords and Keys: Immediately change passwords and reissue SSL certificates and keys after updating OpenSSL. This step is crucial to mitigate potential compromises by hackers.
  • Regular Software Updates: Regularly update all your software to strengthen your overall security posture. Patch your applications against known vulnerabilities to enhance protection.
  • Monitor Network Traffic: Remain vigilant and monitor your network traffic for any suspicious activity. Promptly detecting and addressing anomalies can prevent potential breaches.
  • Conduct Security Audits: Perform comprehensive security audits of your systems. Identify and resolve vulnerabilities to ensure robust protection against Heartbleed and other threats.

By implementing these preventive measures, you can effectively safeguard your sensitive data from the risks associated with Heartbleed, maintaining a secure environment for your organization or business.

Heartbleed Cost

Heartbleed incurred costs that extended beyond the damages from successful attacks. Security Magazine estimated that the expense of numerous organizations needing to revoke and replace their SSL certificates alone could reach up to $500 million. When factoring in the worker-hours needed to inspect and update systems, there was a significant increase in spending directly attributable to this vulnerability.

How to Know If You Are Affected?

Although not every service has been impacted by Heartbleed, it’s essential to prioritize safety. While you can’t guarantee the security of your data, there are tools available to check for potential vulnerabilities.

Filippo Heartbleed Test is one such tool. It functions by sending out malformed heartbeats to the website of your choice, extracting approximately 80 bytes of memory to assess vulnerability.

Another option is the Heartbleed Checker tool. Simply enter the domain of the website you wish to check, and it will indicate whether the site is susceptible to Heartbleed.

By utilizing these tools, you can take proactive steps to assess and mitigate any potential risks associated with Heartbleed.

Steps to Consider When You Are Affected

If you’ve discovered that your account might be at risk due to Heartbleed, it’s crucial to take action. While changing your password immediately is often advised, it’s essential to ensure that the site has fixed the issue first.

Heartbleed isn’t a simple database leak, so merely changing passwords won’t solve the problem if the site remains vulnerable. While some websites like Google may clarify their status, others may not provide explicit information about fixes.

To determine if a service is still vulnerable, you can use the tools mentioned earlier or refer to lists like the one on Mashable. However, these resources may not differentiate between services that were never vulnerable and those that have been fixed. Therefore, it’s prudent to change your passwords if a site is reported as not vulnerable.

Additionally, taking a break from affected services can be beneficial, as Heartbleed only exposes data stored in a server’s RAM.

Although Heartbleed extends beyond password security, it’s an opportune moment to revisit best practices for securing online accounts. While changing passwords regularly is essential, implementing two-factor authentication (2FA) adds an extra layer of security. Two-factor authentication requires users to verify their identity through two steps, such as entering a verification code or using a smartphone app.

Furthermore, using password management tools to generate and manage passwords can enhance security. These tools create randomized passwords and handle them securely, eliminating the need to remember multiple passwords or resort to using the same password across different websites.


Heartbleed remains a significant security concern impacting nearly every internet user. While we can take proactive steps such as monitoring services, changing passwords, and staying vigilant, ultimately, the responsibility lies with server administrators to address the vulnerability. Heartbleed serves as a stark reminder that safeguarding our personal data requires ongoing vigilance and cannot be taken for granted in an ever-evolving digital landscape.

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