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Java Hacker Uncovers Two Flaws In Latest Update

Expert Java bug hunter says Oracle's latest Java 7 update, released last week, has two sandbox-bypass bugs.

The Java vulnerability news isn't getting better.

Less than one week after Oracle released Java 7 update 11 to patch or mitigate two zero-day vulnerabilities in Java that were being actively exploited by attackers, veteran Java bug hunter Adam Gowdiak of Security Explorations in Poland discovered two new vulnerabilities in Java standard edition.

"We have successfully confirmed that a complete Java security sandbox bypass can be still gained under the recent version of Java 7 Update 11 (JRE version 1.7.0_11-b21)," wrote Gowdiak in a post to the Full Disclosure mailing list. As a result, any attacker who used the vulnerabilities would be able to craft malware that tapped the Java runtime environment, thus fully compromising a vulnerable system.

Interestingly, the two newly discovered bugs have nothing to do with Oracle's partial patch of the "MBeanInstantiator" flaw. This was mitigated by Oracle via changing the default Java security setting from medium to high, which requires that an unsigned Java Web apps be authorized by a user before being allowed to run. "MBeanInstantiator bug (or rather a lack of a fix for it) turned out to be quite inspirational for us," said Gowdiak. "However, instead of relying on this particular bug, we have decided to dig our own issues. As a result, two new security vulnerabilities (51 and 52) were spotted in a recent version of Java SE 7 code and they were reported to Oracle today (along with a working Proof of Concept code)."

[ Questions about the latest Java bugs? Here are some answers. Java Security Warnings: Cut Through The Confusion. ]

Gowdiak has numbered the security vulnerabilities 51 and 52, because that's the number of Java 7 bugs Security Explorations has reported to Oracle since April 2, 2012. In terms of the latest two vulnerabilities reported to Oracle, Gowdiak said, "The company informs us that it will investigate based on the data provided and get back to us soon."

How bad are the vulnerabilities? "[Gowdiak] implies that although it locked the office door in update 7u11, Oracle left the entrance to the building open, which he considered as good as an invitation to find another way in," wrote Paul Ducklin, head of technology for Sophos in the Asia Pacific region, in a blog post. But per its disclosure policy, Security Explorations has yet to release full details of the new vulnerabilities, pending a fix from Oracle.

News of two new vulnerabilities being discovered comes on the heels of news that another Java vulnerability, unpatched by Oracle, was being offered for sale on an exclusive cybercrime forum.

The recently discovered Java vulnerabilities have led to widespread confusion over exactly which types of Java are at risk, worries about whether Java itself is safe, and questions over how Java-dependent enterprises should best deal with the vulnerability challenge. (Hint: Start by removing the Java plug-in from browsers, whenever possible.)

Oracle has also come under fire for failing to provide enterprises with a reliable method for updating the Java runtime environment across a large number of managed machines. As noted by one reader, "there are loosely published methods to do it via Group Policy or Configuration Manager, but these often fail, and are NOT supported by Oracle."

Despite all of the bad press Oracle has been lately receiving on the bug front, Gowdiak -- who's criticized the speed with which Oracle has issued Java patches -- says that Java is actually quite secure by design. "Contrary to the common belief, it is not so easy to break Java," he said in a Java security FAQ. "For a reliable, non-memory-corruption-based exploit codes, usually more than one issue needs to be combined together to achieve a full JVM sandbox compromise. This alone is both challenging and demanding as it usually requires a deep knowledge of a Java VM implementation and the tricks that can be used to break its security."

On the upside, Oracle also appears to have been taking a more aggressive approach to patching Java of late, according to Sophos's Ducklin. "Oracle does seem to be learning something about the sociology of patching widely distributed, consumer-targeted software like Java: patch early, patch often, don't be in denial, and think of extra mitigations beyond what is strictly necessary."

Those improvements, Ducklin continued, include the recent Java 7 update 11 patch arriving more quickly than anticipated, a control panel that lets people disable Java in their browser, as well as the stricter default security settings for code signing.

Your employees are a critical part of your security program, particularly when it comes to the endpoint. Whether it's a PC, smartphone or tablet, your end users are on the front lines of phishing attempts and malware attacks. Read our Security: Get Users To Care report to find out how to keep your company safe. (Free registration required.)

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Andrew Binstock
Andrew Binstock,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/28/2013 | 7:47:55 AM
re: Java Hacker Uncovers Two Flaws In Latest Update
"...but the Java/Oracle bashing is totally out of scope these days" It's not out of scope. It might be excessive in some forums, but my concern has nothing to do with the usual ranting, but rather the lack of communication for a company hoping to host enterprise Java apps in the cloud. I have no idea where you view in my response anything that discusses "the death of Java." I love Java and use it everyday. I want Oracle to be more responsive precisely *because* I don't want it to die.
User Rank: Ninja
1/26/2013 | 3:28:23 PM
re: Java Hacker Uncovers Two Flaws In Latest Update
We could say the same or worse about Microsoft and yet everyone uses it. Do we have to patch Java every month by downloading 100MBs worth of patches and then reboot every single system?
Complaints about the Java bugs are legitimate, but the Java/Oracle bashing is totally out of scope these days. Look at many of the Word or PowerPoint vulnerabilities. Something dorky like a slide show app can compromise an entire system??? Does PowerPoint really need access down to the kernel level? And such systems are as easily compromised as is the case with the Java bugs.
Rather than demand the death of Java put effort into finding flaws, disclosing them to Oracle, and help them get fixed. As it stands now, there is no other cross-platform runtime.
Mark Kauffman
Mark Kauffman,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/24/2013 | 10:19:31 PM
re: Java Hacker Uncovers Two Flaws In Latest Update
As a long-time (20-years) software architect and engineer, I found one of the early advantages of Java to be in our ability to write once and run the same code anywhere, in any browser. With advances in HTML and JavaScript (not Java) - there are fewer browser applications that require Java applets, so disabling it in your browser is feasible. However, running the JVM in a browser was originally touted as a secure (for the user) way to run code - because said code could not touch the host OS or file system, because it ran in a sandbox. That Oracle and probably Sun let that slide is a disgrace, Oracle should do the right thing by Java, which is simply to make certain that the JVM, in a browser, can not execute certain operations, or fail in a way that corrupts memory or disk. Applets can be forced to run in a sandbox, as they have in the past. -- MBK MS CS
Andrew Binstock
Andrew Binstock,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/23/2013 | 4:01:56 AM
re: Java Hacker Uncovers Two Flaws In Latest Update
At the rate these defects are turning up, Oracle is going to have to redouble efforts on Java and greatly upgrade its communication, which so far has been far below the standard that enterprise customers should expect from a company that wants to be their cloud vendor.
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