How to protect yourself in Heartbleed's aftershocks

The companies know what to do about Heartbleed now. Here's what you, as an individual, need to do now.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Businesses should not only know about Heartbleed, they should have already implemented Heartbleed fixes by now.  If your bank, favorite online merchant, or software provider hasn't yet, close your accounts and find new ones. That's my first bit of advice on how users should handle Heartbleed.


Heartbleed really is that bad. Your user-ids, your passwords, your credit-card numbers, everything you place online is potentially in play for hackers. You can not fool around with this.

So, as I said earlier, get ready to change all your passwords. Yes, every last damn one of them. Were your favorite sites vulnerable? You can check specific sites with the Heartbleed test, LastPass Heartbleed checker, or the Qualys SSL Labs test. The first two just check on Heartbleed while the last checks for other possible Secure-Socket Layer/Transport Layer Security (SSL/TLS) and awards sites a grade from A (the best) to F (failure).

ZDNet's sister site, CNet, also has a constantly updating list, Heartbleed bug: Check which sites have been patched, for the 100 most popular Web sites. I'm annoyed to say that some popular sites, as of early Thursday evening, April 10th, may still not be safe. These include sites you might expect to be behind the times — like some porn websites — but also such major household-name sites as CNN, the Huffington Post, and Weather.com.

Once you know your site has the bug fixed then you should change your password right? Wrong.

Ask the company if they really have patched their software AND installed new SSL certificates from their Certificate Authority (CA). Only once they've done both those things should you change your password. And let me remind you again, for pity's sake change it to a good password. This xkcd cartoon I cite in an earlier story on passwords actually gives great advice.

Next, if your favorite sites or services, such as Google, GitHub, or Microsoft support two-factor authentication, use it. Yes two-factor is usually a lot more trouble to set up than a simple password. So what? In an increasingly insecure world, you'll need it.

Done yet? Nope.

You should also clear out all your Web browsers' cache, cookies, and history. That's never a bad idea anyway. You don't want old memorized passwords walking into trouble at an untrustworthy site. To do this with the most popular browsers, follow these steps:


  • In the browser bar, enter: chrome://settings/clearBrowserData
  • Select the items you want to clear. For example, Clear browsing history, Clear download history, Empty the cache, Delete cookies and other site and plug-in data.


  • From the Tools or History menu, select Clear Recent History.
  • From the Time range to clear: On the drop-down menu, select the desired range; to clear your entire cache, select Everything.
  • Click the down arrow next to "Details" to choose which elements of the history to clear. Click Clear Now.

Internet Explorer 9 and higher:

  • Go to Tools (via the Gear Icon) > Safety > Delete browsing history....
  • Once there, choose to delete Preserve Favorites website data, temporary Internet files, and cookies.

I know this is a lot of trouble. Take the time to do it.

You're going to see all kinds of e-mails soon about magic solutions to all your Heartbleed problems. Yeah, right. They'll all be spam either bearing malware or pointing you to sites that contain malware. There's no quick fix for Heartbleed.

Finally, start checking your bank and credit-card statements very, very carefully. If you've been compromised, chances are all too good that you'll find out by finding bogus charges on your credit cards.

Good luck. We're all going to need it.

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