Despite claims by the US Government that it was not aware of the Heartbleed vulnerability until it was made public, a news piece has claimed that the NSA knew about Heartbleed for at least two years.
The NSA tweeted a statement on Friday evening, saying that it “was not aware of the recently identified Heartbleed vulnerability until it was made public”. However Bloomberg said that the NSA knew about Heartbleed and regularly used it to gather critical intelligence.
It said: “Putting the Heartbleed bug in its arsenal, the NSA was able to obtain passwords and other basic data that are the building blocks of the sophisticated hacking operations at the core of its mission, but at a cost. Millions of ordinary users were left vulnerable to attack from other nations’ intelligence arms and criminal hackers.”
The report said that the search for flaws is central to NSA’s mission, though a presidential board reviewing the NSA’s activities after Edward Snowden’s leaks recommended the agency halt the stockpiling of software vulnerabilities. It also said that the NSA has more than 1,000 experts devoted to ferreting out such flaws using sophisticated analysis techniques, many of them classified.
Shawn Turner, director of public affairs for the office, said in a statement to Bloomberg: “This administration takes seriously its responsibility to help maintain an open, interoperable, secure and reliable internet. Unless there is a clear national security or law enforcement need, this process is biased toward responsibly disclosing such vulnerabilities.”
The New York Times said that the President permitted the use of cyber weapons where there was “a clear national security or law enforcement need”.
In a statement, the office of the Director of National Intelligence refuted the Bloomberg story, saying that reports that the NSA or any other part of the US Government were aware of the Heartbleed vulnerability before April 2014 were wrong.
“The Federal government was not aware of the recently identified vulnerability in OpenSSL until it was made public in a private sector cyber security report. The Federal government relies on OpenSSL to protect the privacy of users of Government websites and other online services. This administration takes seriously its responsibility to help maintain an open, interoperable, secure and reliable internet,” it said.
“If the Federal Government, including the intelligence community, had discovered this vulnerability prior to last week, it would have been disclosed to the community responsible for OpenSSL.”
It said that that when zero-day flaws are discovered “it is in the national interest to responsibly disclose the vulnerability rather than to hold it for an investigative or intelligence purpose”.