Just days after it released a patch for a serious security flaw discovered last week in its Java programming language, the software is making headlines again because another previously unpublicized flaw in the program threatens the security of millions of PCs that may still have the application running on it.
Oracle released a fix Sunday for a Java flaw so serious that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security recommended that computer users disable the software unless using it was “absolutely necessary.”
That advice was repeated Monday by the department’s Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) even after the patch was made available to users.
Vulnerablity for sale
Now it’s being reported that an enterprising Black Hat is peddling a new Zero Day vulnerability for the latest version of Java (version 7, update 11) to up to two buyers for $5000 each.
Since Krebs discovered the offer, he said, it has been removed from the crime forum, suggesting the seller found his buyers for the exploit.
“To my mind, this should dispel any illusions that people may harbor about the safety and security of having Java installed on an end-user PC without taking careful steps to isolate the program,” Krebs wrote.
This latest Java exploit is worse than the last one because no one knows what it is, according to Bogdan Botezatu, senior e-threat analyst with anti-virus software maker Bitdefender.
In the flaw patched Sunday, he explained, the exploit code was identified by security researchers in some popular malware kits. With the latest flaw, it’s only known to the seller.
“The current method of exploitation will likely remain unknown for a bigger timeframe, which will also increase the attackers’ windows of opportunity,” Botezatu said in an email.
Earlier this week, Botezatu noted in a blog that despite the patch pushed by Oracle on Sunday, cyber criminals continued to exploit the vulnerability on unpatched machines to install ransomware on them.
Oracle’s security moves
In addition to addressing the Zero Day vulnerability in Sunday’s patch, Oracle also boosted Java’s security setting to “high” by default. “That means that right now the user has to authorize the execution of Java applets that are not signed with a valid certificate,” explained Jaimie Blasco, manager of AlienVault Labs, in an email.
While that move is a great step toward making Java more secure on a browser, Blasco noted, it is far from a panacea for Java’s problems.
“In the past, we have seen that the attackers were able to steal a valid certificate to sign malicious code so it won’t surprise me if we see this technique being used,” he said.
Because Java appears to be riddled with vulnerabilities, Bitdefender’s Botezatu recommends Oracle identify the core components of the software and rewrite it from scratch.
No doubt, more than a little rewriting of the software will be done when Oracle releases the next version of Java scheduled for September.
John Mello writes on technology and cyber security for a number of online publications and is former managing editor of the Boston Business Journal and Boston Phoenix. Disclosure: He also writes for Hewlett-Packad's marketing website TechBeacon.