The Department of Homeland Security last week said computer users should disable the program in web browsers because hackers were using a zero-day vulnerability to attack computer systems. Criminals were using the flaw to stealthily install malware on the computers of users who visit compromised websites.
The problem, which affects Oracle Java 7 update 10 and earlier, can allow an untrusted Java applet to escalate its privileges, without requiring code signing.
In fact, Java is so ubiquitous that the software has become a major bull’s-eye for hackers. Last year, Java overtook Adobe Reader as the most frequently attacked software, according to computer security firm Kaspersky Lab.
Mac users probably don’t have to worry because Apple already removed Java plug-ins from OS X browsers. Apple apparently learned a lesson last year when it took its time making a Java patch available and as a result more than 600,000 Macs were infected with malware.
Last February, Oracle released a fix for a targeted vulnerability identified as CVE-2012-0507 and included it in an update for the Windows version of Java. However, since Apple distributes a self-compiled version of Java for Macs, it ports Oracle’s patches to it according to its own schedule, which can be months behind the one for Java on Windows.
Mozilla also has blacklisted all current releases of Java.
“The advantage to this approach is that you are prompted every time a website wants to launch a Java applet and you can make an informed decision as to whether you truly need that applet,” says security firm Sophos in a blog post.