Some of the world's leading websites—including those owned or operated by Bank of America, VMware, the US Department of Veteran's Affairs, and business consultancy Accenture—are vulnerable to simple attacks that bypass the transport layer security encryption designed to thwart eavesdroppers and spoofers.
The attacks are a variation on the so-called POODLE exploits disclosed two months ago against secure sockets layer (SSL), an encryption protocol similar to transport layer security (TLS). Short for "Padding Oracle On Downgraded Legacy Encryption," POODLE allowed attackers monitoring Wi-Fi hotspots and other unsecured Internet connections to decrypt HTTPS traffic encrypted by the ancient SSL version 3. Browser makers quickly responded by limiting or eliminating use of SSLv3, a move that appears to have averted widespread exploitation of the bug.
On Monday, word emerged that there's a variation on the POODLE attack that works against widely used implementations of TLS. At the time this post was being prepared, SSL Server Test, a free service provided by security firm Qualys, showed that some of the Internet's top websites—again, a list including Bank of America, VMware, the US Department of Veteran's Affairs, and Accenture—are susceptible. The vulnerability was serious enough to earn all sites found to be affected a failing grade by the Qualys service.