Tax season is upon us and, as our reliance on web-based services grow, people are increasingly turning towards the Internet to either file their own income tax returns using software applications or are using tax preparation services that do the same.
However, a newly discovered Internet hazard, called the Heartbleed Bug, is so potentially damaging that even the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has shut down access to its web-based services until a fix is in place and it could cause delays in Canadians’ ability to file their income tax returns.
“Right now it’s affecting our ability to electronically file tax returns for our clients,” said Colleen Harmston, owner of the Trail and Castlegar offices of H & R Block, a Canada-wide tax planning and preparation company.
“We can’t check online for client information when necessary and it’s even affecting our ability to contact CRA by phone, I guess because they’re so busy dealing with this it’s difficult to get through.”
Although the local tax preparation services can still process an individual’s income tax return, they won’t be able to file them with CRA until the issue has been dealt with.
The CRA has posted a notice on the home page of its website informing the public that, upon being notified of the Internet security issue that; “As a preventative measure, the CRA has temporarily shut down public access to our online services to safeguard the integrity of the information we hold.”
According to the Internet Identity and Information Security Company, Entrust, the Heartbleed Bug was recently discovered by researchers at Google and Codenomicon but has apparently been in the wilds of the Internet for two years.
The malicious code apparently affects the Secure Socket Layer (SSL) level of web servers and, “allows an attacker to read the memory of a system over the Internet and compromise the private keys, names, passwords and content” of a website and could potentially affect a considerable number of the websites people use for online email, shopping, and a wide variety of other web-based services people use frequently.
A number of tech savvy bloggers and journalists are calling this particular vulnerability extremely serious and are recommending that Internet users change their passwords on any websites that contain any financial and personal information.
Internet email and online shopping aside, the CRA acknowledges the potential inconvenience the shutdown of its online services may cause to individuals who are trying to submit their income tax returns and say that consideration will be given to taxpayers who are unable to file their tax returns on time because of the interruption.
As of press time the CRA announced it is hoping to have its online services restored some time over the weekend.
“We have to assume that CRA is still processing returns that they have already received but the online service is just on hold temporarily,” said Harmston. “Obviously it’s important that they protect the private information they have and I assume they will still be able to process paper returns sent by mail.”