There’s a major security alert that’s affecting the whole of the internet right now. Security researchers have called it one of the most severe vulnerabilities the world has ever seen.
A flaw in Log4j, a Java library for logging error messages in applications, is the most high-profile security vulnerability on the internet right now and comes with a severity score of 10 out of 10.
The library is developed by the open-source Apache Software Foundation and is a key Java-logging framework. Since last week's alert by CERT New Zealand that CVE-2021-44228, a remote code execution flaw in Log4j, was already being exploited in the wild, warnings have been issued by several national cybersecurity agencies, including the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the UK's National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC). Internet infrastructure provider Cloudflare said Log4j exploits started on December 1.
It’s affecting the servers that power much of the web as well as locally based applications that utilize this library.
We want to give you a simple guide to what’s happened, and what it means, without any baffling tech speak.
Let’s start at the beginning. At the end of last week, a problem was noticed in the highly popular game Minecraft.
It quickly became apparent that the impact was far larger than just affecting a game. In fact, it’s affected millions of web applications, including Apple’s iCloud.
The problem is a security flaw in a piece of software called Log4j. This is designed to keep a record of everything that’s happened within applications. This record helps developers track down problems and fix them.
Log4j is what’s known as open-source software. It’s developed free by coders in their spare time, and anyone can use it. And rather than write their own logging software, millions of developers have done just that. Why not. It’s a very efficient way to create new applications.
But it means the security flaw – called Log4Shell – is now affecting millions of pieces of software, running on millions of machines.
The flaw allows hackers to run any code they like on affected servers. They could steal data, delete information, or run other software. Experts say this flaw makes it so easy to run malicious code, virtually anyone could do it.
What happens from here?
The fix to the problem was developed quickly. It was released in a patch – like a Band-Aid to fix the bug. The real issue is updating all the software that’s been using Log4j.
It’s so widely used that it’s likely to take several months for the patch to be universally applied. And experts believe there will always be some web applications that, for whatever reason, are never updated.
Meanwhile, cybersecurity researchers at Sophos have warned that they've detected hundreds of thousands of attempts to remotely execute code using the Log4j vulnerability in the days since it was publicly disclosed, along with scans searching for the vulnerability.
Cybersecurity firm Bitdefender published research Tuesday that appears to show exploit attempts on vulnerable machines by a new family of ransomware known as “Khonsari.” According to the research, Khonsari ransomware hackers have been targeting Microsoft systems, leaving behind ransom notes.
This is where it starts to affect you more directly. We’re likely to see a lot of website hacks and attacks happen over the next few months.
Some eCommerce sites that didn’t apply the patch quickly may find hackers have stolen their customers’ card numbers or other details. The risk of identity theft shoots up.
Other websites you visit may try to secretly download malware – malicious software – onto your computer.
Here are some basic security measures you can take to stay safe online:
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