informa
/
Risk
News

9 Must-Know Java Security Facts

More than half of all Java users are still using Java 6, which Oracle officially retired last month. Is it time for a consumer recall?
Anonymous: 10 Things We Have Learned In 2013
Anonymous: 10 Things We Have Learned In 2013
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Interestingly, StatOwl.com found that for people using corporate Internet connections -- in other words, browsing from work PCs -- 61% of Java users were using Java version 6, versus 11% on Java 7, and 21% using a version of Java that couldn't be detected.

6. Java 6 Will Auto-Replace Itself, Sometimes

As of February 2013, Oracle said that Java 6 installations would be set to automatically update to Java 7, with some caveats. According to an Oracle FAQ, the update will not be silent. "All Java auto-updates request the user's permission before installing a new version on their system," it said.

But not all Java 6 will be updated. Notably, if a user has both Java 6 and Java 7 plug-ins installed, the auto-update won't happen. Furthermore, "versions other than the latest [meaning Java 7] will not be removed as there are cases in which a user, particularly enterprise users, would need more than one version of Java on their systems," it said.

An Oracle spokesman with knowledge of the company's Java operations wasn't immediately available to discuss how many PCs have auto-updated from Java 6 to Java 7, or to detail which versions of Java 6 have the auto-update capability built in.

7. Mainstream Awareness Deficit: Is Java Malware?

Complicating efforts to move people off of Java 6 is the fact that many people have no clue what Java is and, if they do, quite a few suspect it's up to no good. "Java is a funny animal," said Rachwald. "It's in the backend and most end users don't quite know what it is or does. Unlike a message that says, 'Update iTunes,' people aren't sure about Java."

Interestingly, the fact that so many people are still using Java 6 "in an odd way ... may actually be a sign of something positive: end users not trusting and updating something they don't know. (I tested this with my mom, she thought Java was malware!)," he said.

8. Which Java Version Remains Unclear

Further compounding the Java confusion is the fact that there's no single, reliable technique for finding and cataloging all versions of Java that may be installed on a PC, or even reliably knowing which version of Java it really is.

Notably, information security consultant Michael Horowitz has said on his Java version testing site that there seems to be a communication failure between Java browser plug-ins and browsers. "Java 7 Update 10 introduced a new checkbox that disables the use of Java in all browsers," he said. "By and large, this is a good thing, but there seems to be a failure to communicate between Java and many Web browsers. As a result, all the browsers I have tried so far incorrectly report that Java is not installed when, in fact, it may be installed but this new security feature has been enabled."

Meanwhile, attackers have exploited the confusion over Java by crafting malware which pretends to be a Java update from Oracle. That's a reminder to only install updates obtained from the Java website (or for Mac OS X users, when those updates are distributed by Apple).

9. Windows XP Lesson: Aging Technology Never Vanishes

If Java 6 clinging to life despite it reaching "end of life" sounds familiar, it's because so often, old technology doesn't disappear. Notably, end of mainstream support for Windows XP Service Pack 3 ended on April 14, 2009, and extended support contracts will cease in a year, on April 8, 2014. But as of March 2013, 39% of all PCs were still running Windows XP, putting it behind Windows 7 (45%), but far ahead of Windows Vista (5%), Windows 8 (3%) -- or for that matter, Mac OS X (7%), according to Net Market Share.

Arguably, Microsoft has made it clear that it's time to move on from Windows XP. Whether users or businesses choose to do so is their own business. By comparison, Oracle doesn't seem to be getting the "upgrade or remove Java now" message out. Is it time to argue for some type of a consumer recall?

"I don't see Oracle giving the 'upgrade or disable' [warning] considering the pervasiveness of Java," said Rachwald. Another option, however, is suggested by the actions of Apple, which has already taken the Java security lead, by updating OS X to automatically disable Java if it hasn't been used for 35 days. Should we now call on Microsoft -- for Windows -- and Linux distribution developers to do the same?

Recommended Reading:
Editors' Choice
Kirsten Powell, Senior Manager for Security & Risk Management at Adobe
Joshua Goldfarb, Director of Product Management at F5