The vulnerability in web encryption technology could enable attackers to spy on communications of users of Apple’s Safari browser and Google Inc’s Android browser, according to researchers who uncovered the flaw.
Apple spokesman Ryan James said the computer had developed a software update to remediate the vulnerability, which would be pushed out next week.
Google spokeswoman Liz Markman said the company had also developed a patch, which it has provided to partners. She declined to say when users could expect to receive those upgrades.
Google typically does not directly push out Android software updates. Instead they are handled by device makers and mobile carriers.
The Washington Post reported that the bug left users of Apple and Google devices vulnerable to cyberattack when visiting hundreds of thousands of websites, including Whitehouse.gov, NSA.gov and FBI.gov.
Whitehouse.gov and FBI.gov have been fixed, but NSA.gov remains vulnerable, the paper cited Johns Hopkins cryptographer Matthew D. Green as saying.
A group of nine researchers discovered that they could force web browsers to use an form of encryption that was intentionally weakened to comply with U.S. government regulations that ban American companies from exporting the strongest encryption standards, according to the paper.
Once they caused the site to use the weaker export encryption standard, they were then able to break the encryption within a few hours. That could allow hackers to steal data and potentially launch attacks on the sites themselves by taking over elements on a page, the newspaper reported.
Markman said that Google advises all websites to disable support for the less-secure, export-grade encryption.
“Android’s connections to most websites – which include Google sites, and others without export certificates – are not subject to this vulnerability,” she added.
The group of researchers dubbed the flaw Freak, for “Factoring RSA-EXPORT Keys,” according to a website where they described the vulnerability. (Reuters)