Java Back In The Bullseye

Adobe Flash may be all the attack rage lately, but Oracle's new pile of patches -- including one for an 0day spotted in the wild -- highlight how Java remains an attractive target.

Remember -- before Adobe Flash -- when Java was the darling of cybercriminals and other nefarious hackers? Well, Java is getting some bad-guy love once again, with a nation-state group employing a zero-day vulnerability that was among 25 Java bug patches from Oracle's fixes for some 193 software bugs overall this week.

The so-called Pawn Storm cyber espionage gang thought to be out of Russia has targeted US military, embassy, and defense contractors for several years, and most recently, the White House and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Researchers this month spotted Pawn Storm using a zero-day remote code execution bug in Java. That flaw-- CVE-2015-2590-- was among those fixed by Oracle this week, and was one of the first Java 0days spotted in the wild in the past two years.

Calls to disable Java on the desktop and in browsers over the past two years appear to have made it a less attractive target for the bad guys, who of late have been all about abusing Adobe Flash. Experts recommend disabling Flash, which Adobe is regularly patching for new bugs, and some are even recommending eradicating it altogether.

Trend Micro researchers wrote in a post this week about the new Java 0day. "Trend Micro first came across this vulnerability (and exploit) as part of our ongoing investigations on Operation Pawn Storm. We found email messages  targeting a certain armed forces of a NATO country and a US defense organization contained these malicious URLs where the Java exploit is hosted," Trend Micro said. "This exploit sets off a chain of malware infections that lead to its final payload: an information-stealing malware."

Meanwhile, of the 25 CVEs patched in Oracle's batch of security fixes, 24 of them affect Java SE 8, the newest version of Java. "Of the 25 CVEs fixed in this patch, 24 of them (96%) affect Java SE 8 which is the latest and most up-to-date Java version. This reveals that the security of Java's APIs has not significantly improved over time. This is something of a paradox, since at Java's inception is was specifically promoted as being a secure computing platform," says Java expert and Waratek CTO John Matthew Holt.

Of the 25 flaws, 23 are remotely exploitable bugs that require no authentication, he says. "These are very serious and cover the maximum severity score of CVSS 10.0 -- in other words, as bad as it gets," Holt says.

Java SE 7 is no longer supported by Oracle, he notes, which is problematic for enterprises. "So Enterprises running Java SE 7 applications -- which is virtually every large enterprise today -- cannot automatically download and apply these important security fixes."

According to Warateck, less than 10% of companies are running Java 8 in live production today and around 30% run Java 7.


About the Author(s)

Kelly Jackson Higgins, Editor-in-Chief, Dark Reading

Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Editor-in-Chief of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise Magazine, Virginia Business magazine, and other major media properties. Jackson Higgins was recently selected as one of the Top 10 Cybersecurity Journalists in the US, and named as one of Folio's 2019 Top Women in Media. She began her career as a sports writer in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, and earned her BA at William & Mary. Follow her on Twitter @kjhiggins.

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