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This article was originally published on the Red Hat Customer Portal. The information may no longer be current.

In the last few years, several serious security issues have been discovered in various cryptographic libraries. Though very few of them were actually exploited in the wild before details were made public and patches were shipped, important issues like Heartbleed have led developers, researchers, and users to take code sanity of these products seriously.

Among the recent issues fixed by the OpenSSL project in version 1.0.1h, the main one that will have everyone talking is the "Man-in-the-middle" (MITM) attack, documented by CVE-2014-0224, affecting the Secure Socket Layer (SSL) and Transport Layer Security (TLS) protocols.

What is CVE-2014-0224 and should I really be worried about it?

The short answer is: it depends. But like any security flaw, its always safer to patch rather than defer and worry.

In order for an attacker to exploit this flaw, the following conditions need to be present.

  • Both the client and the server must be vulnerable. All versions of OpenSSL are vulnerable on the client side. Only 1.0.1 and above are currently known to be vulnerable on the server side. If either the client or the server is fixed, it is not feasible to perform this attack.
  • A Man-In-The-Middle (MITM) attacker: An attacker capable of intercepting and modifying packets off the wire. A decade back, this attack vector seemed almost impossible for anyone but Internet Service Providers as they had access to all the network devices through which most of the traffic on the internet passed.

However with the prevalence of various public wireless access points, easily available at cafes, restaurants, and even free internet access provided by some cities, MITM is now possible. Additionally, there is a variety of software available that provides the capability of faking Access Points. Once clients connect to the fake AP, an attacker could then act as a MITM for the client's traffic. A successful MITM attack may disclose authentication credentials, sensitive information, or give the attacker the ability to impersonate the victim.

How does this attack work?

SSL/TLS sessions are initiated with the ClientHello and ServerHello handshake messages sent from the respective side. This part of the protocol is used to negotiate the attributes of the session, such as protocol version used, encryption protocol, encryption keys, Message Authentication Code (MAC) secrets and Initializaton Vectors (IV), as well as the extensions supported.

For various reasons, the client or the server may decide to modify the ciphering strategies of the connection during the handshake stage (don't confuse this with the handshake protocol). This can be achieved by using the ChangeCipherSpec (CCS) request. The CCS consists of a single packet which is sent by both the client and the server to notify that the subsequent records will be protected under the newly negotiated CipherSpec and keys.

As per the standards (RFC 2246, RFC 5246) "The ChangeCipherSpec message is sent during the handshake after the security parameters have been agreed upon, but before the verifying Finished message is sent.". This however did not happen with OpenSSL, and it accepted a CCS even before the security parameters were agreed upon. It is expected that accepting CCS out of order results in the state between both sides being desynchronized. Usually this should result in both sides effectively terminating the connection, unless you have another flaw present.

In order to exploit this issue, a MITM attacker would effectively do the following:

  • Wait for a new TLS connection, followed by the ClientHello / ServerHello handshake messages.
  • Issue a CCS packet in both the directions, which causes the OpenSSL code to use a zero length pre master secret key. The packet is sent to both ends of the connection. Session Keys are derived using a zero length pre master secret key, and future session keys also share this weakness.
  • Renegotiate the handshake parameters.
  • The attacker is now able to decrypt or even modify the packets in transit.

OpenSSL patched this vulnerability by changing how it handles when CCS packets are received, and how it handles zero length pre master secret values. The OpenSSL patch ensures that is is no longer possible to use master keys with zero length. It also ensures that CCS packets cannot be received before the master key has been set.

What is the remedy?

The easiest solution is to ensure you are using the latest version of OpenSSL your distribution provides. Red Hat has issued security advisories for all of its affected products, and Fedora users should also be able to update their openssl packages to a patched version.

You will need to restart any services using OpenSSL that are not restarted automatically.

If you are a Red Hat customer, there is a tool available located at which you can use to remotely verify the latest patches have been applied and your TLS server is responding correctly.

We have additional information regarding specific Red Hat products affected by this issue that can be found at

About the author

Huzaifa Sidhpurwala is a principal Product Security Engineer, working for Red Hat Product Security Team.

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