May 06, 2014

The Heartbleed Backstory and the Awesome Power of Branding

by Guest Blogger

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This logo makes it clear that you do not want your computer to have Heartbleed, even if you don't know what Heartbleed is.[/caption]

When a software vulnerability is discovered, it is given a CVE ("Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures") ID using a standard CVE-ID Syntax. There are thousands of these CVE's, which are compiled by the non-profit corporation MITRE in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security (fun side note, MITRE registered "CVE" as a trademark). So, when security firm Codenomicon discovered a critical vulnerability in the security software used by many websites, OpenSSL, it was given the name CVE-2014-0160. Codenomicon immediately realized, however, that merely telling people about the danger of CVE-2014-0160 would not effectively communicate the gravity of the situation. So, they used the most powerful tool available for quickly and effectively spreading a message. Branding.

CVE-2014-0160 was branded "Heartbleed," because the vulnerability allows data to leak during the "heartbeat" function of OpenSSL. Also, the name "Heartbleed" is terrifying. A graphic designer at the firm, Leena Snidate, developed the now-famous (and equally terrifying) Heartbleed logo, which features a happy, heart-shaped outline horrifically leaking blood. Due in large part to this branding, news of Heartbleed spread like wildfire and the vulnerability was quickly contained. This was the first use of this type of marketing to communicate a software bug and it worked like a charm. This alone would be a testament to the power of branding. But, there's more.

The true power of branding can be seen in the backstory. You see, Codenomicon was not the only (and maybe not even the first) to discover Heartbleed. An engineer at Google also discovered the vulnerability, around the same time as Codenomicon. But, Google did not brand the vulnerability, so it doesn't matter who discovered it first. The publicity and goodwill for the discovery go to Codenomicon.

The moral of the story is that doing good work is not enough. Without effective branding, your achievements will go unnoticed and your message will not be heard.

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