The security flaws exist in the OpenSSL Project's version of the secure sockets layer (SSL) software used by Web sites and browsers to cryptographically secure data. Two of the flaws could lead to a denial-of-service attack, and a third may allow an attacker to break into a system from the Internet.
The flaws were found when the U.K. government put the software through rigorous testing, said Mark Cox, a developer on the OpenSSL security team.
"We certainly know of no exploits yet," he said. "These were found by the good guys."
Not to be confused with the OpenSSH project--SSH stands for secure shell--which, the OpenSSL Project develops and maintains an open-source version of SSL software. A year ago, that hadn't been patched to fix a different hole in the same software.
Cox said that a specially crafted digital certificate could crash the OpenSSL software through either of two flaws, causing a denial-of-service attack. The third flaw could result in a security hole that could allow online vandals to attack a server or enable a worm to spread. All versions of OpenSSL, up to and including 0.9.6j and 0.9.7b, are affected, according to an advisory issued by the group.
So far, most Linux distributors, including Red Hat and SuSE, have released patches for the flaws. Cisco Systems also has released patches. The networking gear maker uses the software in a number of its products.