Following disclosures by security researchers of vulnerabilities in the last update of Java released in January, Oracle has rushed out ahead of schedule another bundle of fixes for the programming language.
The latest update, originally scheduled for release on February 19, contains 50 security fixes for 49 flaws that were exploitable remotely without authorization. That means they can be used on a network without the knowledge of a username and password.
Oracle said it updated early because one of the vulnerabilities addressed in the update is already being exploited in the wild.
“Due to the threat posed by a successful attack, Oracle strongly recommends that customers apply CPU fixes as soon as possible,” the company warned in an update advisory.
Oracle rushed out a security fix for Java in January after the Department of Homeland Security’s Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) recommended the software be disabled by all its users because of security concerns. Those concerns involved a Zero Day vulnerability being exploited by toolkits created by cybercriminals and used to steal sensitive information from computers.
Even after release of that fix, Java 7 update 11, the agency still recommended turning off Java unless using it was absolutely necessary.
It rapidly became apparent that the 7u11 fix had missed its mark. Just days after its release a hacker began peddling in the online black market a pair of new Java Zero Day vulnerabilities for $5000 each.
Other hackers, perhaps lacking the skills to find vulnerabilities, began to exploit the headlines about Java’s woes by mounting phishing expeditions offering fake updates of Oracle’s programming language. After installation by a user, the fake update installs a back door to a system that allows a hacker to control it.
Flaws found in update
Java’s misfortunes continued when later in the month Security Explorations, a Polish security firm with a history of finding security flaws in Java, discovered new vulnerabilities in the 7u11 update that could be exploited to avoid the program’s sandbox—a programming technique used to isolate the damage malicious code can do to a system.
“These problems will continue until Oracle fixes the sandbox,” Bitdefender Senior E-Threat Analyst Bogdan Botezatu said in an interview.
Botezatu was critical of how much Oracle relied put on users to maintain security in the 7u11 update.
For example, the update sets, by default, the highest security level for Java. At that level, whenever an unsigned Java applet tries to run in a browser, a message pops up cautioning a user that the app may be dangerous and that the user should proceed at their own risk.
Typically, users ignore such warnings because they find them annoying. That’s particularly true for children who play Java games on the Web—a fact, Botezatu points out, not lost on digital desperadoes. “I’ve seen lots of websites running Java malware on pages that have been optimized with keywords targeted at children,” he said.
With the latest Java update, Oracle may be trying to change its luck with the program. It appears to have skipped update 12 in its numbering scheme and designated the latest bundle of fixes Java 7 update 13.
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.