Heartbleed bug causes major security headaches for online services

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By Michael Liedtke and Anick Jesdanun, AP

SAN FRANCISCO–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.

Although there is now a way to close the security hole, there are still plenty of reasons to be concerned, said David Chartier, CEO of Codenomicon. A small team from the Finnish security firm diagnosed Heartbleed while working independently from another Google Inc. researcher who also discovered the threat.

“I don’t think anyone that had been using this technology is in a position to definitively say they weren’t compromised,” Chartier said. Canada Suspends Tax Website 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 U.S. tax preparation software, also issued a Wednesday statement reassuring people that its website is now protected against Heartbleed.

Computer security experts are still advising people to consider changing all their online passwords.