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In the wake of Heartbleed, watch out for phishing attacks, disguised as password reset emails

Graham CLULEY

April 10, 2014

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In the wake of Heartbleed, watch out for phishing attacks, disguised as password reset emails

Everywhere you look people are panicking about the Heartbleed bug.

And, to be fair, it is a very serious bug that does give malicious hackers, security researchers and snoopers the opportunity to spy upon what should have been private communications, and hoover up confidential information such as email addresses and passwords.

The good news is that some of the affected websites and services have already taken action, patched their systems and are proactively reaching out to customers and advising them to change their passwords.

IFTTT (“If this then that”) for instance is a great service that I regularly use as part of my daily online life. So I was pleased to receive an email from them confirming that they have fixed the Heartbleed bug on their own site, and were suggesting that now was a good time to reset my password in an abundance of caution – just in case it had been compromised.

What I was less impressed by, however, were two clangers that IFTTT included in their email.

Though we have no evidence of malicious behavior, we’ve taken the extra precaution of logging you out of IFTTT on the web and mobile. We encourage you to change your password not only on IFTTT, but everywhere, as many of the services you love were affected.

Firstly, IFTTT advised users to change their passwords *everywhere*. No, no, no. That’s bad advice. You should only change passwords on sites which have confirmed they have fixed the Heartbleed flaw. Anything else could actually be increasing the chances of your private information being snarfled.

But the other problem with that part of the email is the clickable link, which can take users directly to the IFTTT site to reset their password.

What’s wrong with that?

Well, it’s important that everyone remains on their guard, as malicious hackers could try to take advantage of the Heartbleed scare for their own benefit.

For instance, an opportunistic cybercriminal could easily spam out a phishing attack disguised as a legitimate email from a web service asking users to reset their passwords.

It’s easy to forge email headers, and to create an HTML email which looks very realistic. And all a bad guy needs to do is embed a link inside the email which pretends to go to a particular site’s login page, but actually goes to a bogus replica website designed to scoop up usernames and passwords.

The email from IFTTT was, fortunately, entirely legitimate. But just like online banks (who have been troubled by phishers for years) have learnt not to include clickable links in their emails, so other websites should avoid the practice if they have a genuine reason to ask users to change their password.

So remember to be suspicious of any unsolicited emails you receive, even if they are from companies you are familiar with, if they ask you to click on a link inside the email to reset your password rather than ask you to visit the website manually and login there instead.

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