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Heartbleed: Why changing your passwords isn't enough

The bug has blown a hole in Internet security, and vigilance is required to keep your data safe.

By Apr 14, 2014 11:22AM
This post comes from Adam Levin at partner site on MSN MoneyThe Heartbleed bug has sent a shockwave through the Internet, as millions of users try to take stock of all of the accounts they’ve ever created and figure out how to change their passwords. Too bad their passwords are just the beginning of the problem.

Heartbleed logo Credit: Codenomicon
Given the reach of Heartbleed and how long the bug existed, it’s hard to even say how much data unscrupulous hackers could’ve gotten their hands on and, because of how it worked, we’ll probably never know. Most people are changing their passwords on affected sites, sitting back and thinking (or hoping) they’re safe. But now is when the work really begins for a large group of scammers. Since many websites ask you (or even require you) to use your email address as a username, that information is also vulnerable to the Heartbleed bug. Welcome to the beginning of phishing season.

Phishing (and the other "ishings," like vishing for phone scams and smishing for text scam) is a more time-consuming method of extracting the goods from you, but it is often more directly profitable. With information about where you have accounts and your email address, it’s easy enough to send you a phishing email that looks like it’s coming from Tumblr but leads you to “update your credit card” with a site that is definitely not Tumblr.

And it’s not just your email address you need to worry about. You wouldn’t believe how far phone scam artists can get with just a little information and the right tone of voice. Plus, while more and more people are texting, many newcomers to the technology haven’t even considered the possibility that the link in the text that is supposedly from “your bank” or “your mobile company” leads you to a site that puts malware right under your thumbs.

If a phisher reeled in or bought information of yours -- like emails, addresses or phone numbers -- compromised in the Heartbleed hack, what should you watch for?

1. Any emails from companies imploring you to 'click here' to change your password or update your account information.

Companies are learning not to do this precisely because it’s such a common phishing and spear-phishing tactic. You should try to pre-empt any such email by going straight to the affected websites once they’ve implemented the Heartbleed fix. But if you don’t, or didn’t, and get worried by the email, take the extra few seconds to open up a new tab and (correctly) type the website’s name into your browser.

2. Any phone call that promises to fix your problem but only if you give them passwords, account access or a credit card right now.

Phone phishing (or vishing) scammers rely on two things to succeed: your fear that you did something wrong or are in some sort of trouble; and their ability to project authority and the ability to fix it. If someone calls you and wants any information and won’t allow you to get off the phone to call back the customer service number you find on your own, they aren’t legit.

3. Any text message from an unknown number.

Don’t open links and pictures or call any numbers you just don’t recognize. Text-message phishers (known as smishers) use our own Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) to draw us in and take advantage of us. 

4. Any calls from weird numbers, especially if your cellphone isn’t widely known.

I assume that there are (mostly young) people who often get calls or texts from numbers they don’t know after a night -- or several nights -- out. But for the rest of us, we probably hoard our cellphone numbers closer than most of the rest of our personal information, if only to avoid overage charges. So if you suddenly start getting calls from numbers you don’t know, don’t let the FOMO lead you down the wrong path. Let them leave a voice mail: just because you can pick up doesn’t mean you have to.

Technology has made a lot of things more convenient, but it’s also made the cleanup of a major security flaw like Heartbleed incredibly difficult. In the face of such a global issue, simply changing our passwords is like using caulk to seal a crack in the Hoover Dam. Bugs and breaches, hackers and phishers are the new norm and we can no longer assume that technology will bail us out or “it won’t happen to me.” It is critical that we change the way we think about security and realize that in the end that each of us must be more vigilant and aggressive in our cyber self-defense.

More from

Apr 14, 2014 12:41PM
With all the data  and security breaches known, you can imagine how many there are that are not known, and how many known but not disclosed to the public. 

Computer code will never be perfect, especially when code is constantly changing. For this reason,  consumers should have free access to their credit report, scores, and a built-in identity protection, funded by a partnership between the federal government and financial/e-commerce industries. 
Apr 14, 2014 1:42PM
these damn hackers and crooks when caught should have there hands cut off period...
Apr 14, 2014 12:35PM
Apr 14, 2014 11:51AM

"Too bad their passwords are just the beginning of the problem."


Au contraire, changing passwords for accounts if your data is on any affected server(s) may indeed be the end of the problem. Go to and see how your servers are affected and what action to take, AND WHEN, on each of them.


The four phishing exploits the author describes were, are, and will be alive regardless of the Heartbleed bug. And, anyone with an IQ at least in the 90s doesn't fall for any of them. These phishing scams really don't have much to do with it, but using Heartbleed to get a "the sky is falling, run for your lives!" chant going is always good for an article or two.

Apr 14, 2014 12:40PM

The scammers still know less about me than the NSA. Guess which one I'm more concerned about ?


My bank was not affected and I really don't care about my credit cards. If they are hit, it's the card companies' problem. Maybe next time they will use better security. As for the rest of the bullsh*t sites I'm registered with, who cares.


If you can't tell a legitimate email from a phishing scam, you probably shouldn't be using email.

The key here is that apparently this has been going on for close to 2 years. It's a little late to worry about it now.

Apr 14, 2014 2:06PM
Isn't it amusing that only Open Source software has a bleeding heart problem?
Apr 14, 2014 12:45PM
What about all those sites that make you open an account, even if it's going to be a one time purchase? Is this something I should worry about?
Apr 14, 2014 1:06PM
I won't be surprised if they named the next big virus the The Beast or the Anti-Christ..
Apr 14, 2014 12:33PM
Heartbleed............installed by the N.S.A.
ANY and EVERY bit of information used through the net is available to be taken, do not listen when the idiots at your bank tell you that their online banking is safe, encryption, my butt, there is nothing that can not be broken into,  ........... auto pay puts the liability of "bad things" back onto the insurance companies that cover your services.
Apr 14, 2014 5:17PM
never, ever link any more info then you have to to your accounts. sure having that online store remember your CC# is nice.. but, as we've seen, it ca lead to problems.. it doesn't take you _that_ long to type those numbers in every time.. and, hey, that 5 second delay might help you rethink if you really need to buy that whatever :) don't link all of your real info to anything.. "burner" email accounts are great for those times when you have a web site that requires an email addy so they can basically spam you later.. get a hotmail or yahoo account just for that stuff, and feel free to give them a fake date of birth or home town (obviously, don't do this with important things, like your actual bank or other financial or legal accounts, but, hey, you can have an email account just for those things as well..)
Sure it means it takes more time to sit and go through each email account instead of having everything just dumped into one (although there is that whole pop mail option.. that is still an option, right?? I use to do that, now i just have 20 tabs open .. lol) but it's nice to keep things separate and  is easier to keep the important things safely away from the "everyday" things and the spam that could lead to hacking like this..

Apr 14, 2014 3:55PM
This is only one of many that's been out in the wild undetected for years. I am sure more will come to light, but who knows who has what. You're just not safe anymore, anywhere. It's unlikely they'll use the little guys information, but you never know. It's easier to scam millions for $1-$5 than one for $1-5M/B. Technology is still in its infancy when it comes to a great number of facets.
Apr 14, 2014 6:53PM
My bank says they don't use any service affected by heartbleed.  I've not been asked by any site to change my password.  I have no cellphone, do not twitter or farcebook.  As for the regular phone, my wife answers that and couldn't give anybody any information on bank accounts, credit cards, passwords or much of anything past a social call and I wouldn't.  Can it be that I have no problem?  Can it be that with the application of a little good sense most people have no real problem?
Apr 14, 2014 7:15PM
What, do I have "STUPID" printed across my forehead?  Tell me something I don't already know!
Apr 14, 2014 4:41PM
They tried to build a better safe.  But in the process they allowed more safecrackers a shot at it by allowing anyone with a computer and internet access in the name of convenience.
Apr 15, 2014 11:06AM
As long as "electricity" exists, we are not safe from our own laziness, greed, ignorance, etc.  ALL the issues related to ANYTHING "computerized" is subject to TWO, (Yes, just 2) factors - 1s and 0s - or, ONs and OFFs.  That is all that controls every single function of the computer.  Every instruction or command of a computer is determined by a series and sequence of 1s(ONs) and 0s(OFFs).  If anyone, ANYONE, generates the correct series of these two functions, they can duplicate ANY instruction/command that ANY computer or application uses to operate.  The various sets or sequences of 1s and 0s represent what is called "binary code".  Combinations of "binary code" are than used to generate "instruction sets" that produce literally every function that can be produced by a computer.  If one person can produce a unique series of instruction sets to produce an application that provides security for another group of instructions sets, another person can duplicate that process and access that same group of instructions which may contain anything from a word processing document to YOUR password(s).  If the person who replicates these instructions or codes is authorized to do so, they are called a "user".  If the person who generates the instruction to access the code without authorization, they are called a "hacker". This is the reality of our information processing era.  IF YOU USE ANYTHING COMPUTERIZED, IT CAN AND WILL BE "HACKED".  And, as more and more people use and rely on computers, the more susceptible they will be to being "hacked".  That is a simple fact of the life and times in which we live - SORRY, but that is just the way it is!
Apr 15, 2014 9:39AM
Most hackers are from outside the U.S.
Apr 14, 2014 9:58PM
i've discovered that some free antivirus work better that the ones you paid.
Apr 14, 2014 11:32AM
Ok, we are up about 132 on the Dow, is everything fine now? Think not, feels more like a sucker's rally; manipulators starting to take over slowly but surely....Like we said earlier, remain cautious....These scumbags can turn things around in a NY minute...More later.
Apr 14, 2014 2:59PM
Shut the whole damn thing down. It doesn't work. The internet has become nothing but a site for runaway flash advertising, crooks, thieves, bed-wetters, perverts, and NSA "Big Loser Brother" loserdom (Facebook, MSN, and Google). Shut it down. It doesn't work. The only thing worthwhile about the internet is porn and even that is plagued by malware, spam, and stalkers.
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