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Heartbleed: What you need to know about the security fiasco in three minutes or less

If you're still unsure as to how the Heartbleed security hole affects you, here's a quick rundown of the issues.

Much of the talk on the web this week has focused on the Heartbleed security fiasco. Still unsure as to what's happening with Heartbleed and how it impacts you? Here's our quick-and-dirty guide.

What exactly is Heartbleed?

Heartbleed is a vulnerability in OpenSSL, an open-source implementation of the SSL/TLS encryption protocol. When exploited, the flaw could expose information stored in a server's memory, including not-at-all-trivial things like your username, password, and other bits of personal data. Since OpenSSL is particularly popular among website administrators, a significant number of your favorite websites may be affected by Heartbleed--research firm Netcraft puts the number at half-a-million sites.

Should I panic?

Panicking is not terribly productive, and, since it involves a lot of running around like a chicken with your head cut off, potentially exhausting. That's no way to go through life. Still, this is a serious matter, and it'll require a little more action on your part than adapting a "this too shall pass" mindset.

So what should I do about it?

Well, if you're a website administrator who uses OpenSSL, you really should stop reading this summary and get back to patching your servers.

As for we civilians, you'll want to change your password on any sites affected by the vulnerability. You will want to wait until after the site has been patched. Doing it while a site is still vulnerable only puts more of your private information out there for someone to grab.

How can I tell if the websites I use are still vulnerable?

A few online tools have sprung up that can scan individual sites for Heartbleed vulnerabilities, including ones from Filippo Valsorda and LastPass. LastPass also updated its password manager so that users of that software can automatically scan their password vault for a list of sites affected by Heartbleed.

Is there anything else I should be doing to keep my information secure?

Probably. Creating strong passwords is as good a place as any to start, and this 2012 article on security in the iCloud age offers a lot of solid best practices for password management. You should consider paying for a password manager--a program that stores all your passwords, credit card data, and other sensitive info in one secure place. As someone who's bought into the Mac-iOS ecosystem, I'm partial to 1Password, but there are other password manager options out there as well.

Where can I get more information about Heartbleed?

TidBits has put together a set of very accessible answers to your Heartbleed questions, while also linking to a more in-depth explanation from software architect Troy Hunt. Mashable has a list of sites impacted by Heartbleed, which it promises to update as new information comes in. And of course, my colleague Ian Paul offers a good summary of what you need to know about Heartbleed.

Is it wrong that the name Heartbleed makes me start humming Heartbeat, the 1986 smash hit sung by actor Don Johnson?

It is very wrong. I would advise not sharing that with other people.

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