10 Facts: Secure Java For Business Use

Businesses that rely on Java must now take additional steps to keep employees safe. Here's where to start.
11 Security Sights Seen Only At Black Hat
11 Security Sights Seen Only At Black Hat
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5. Enforce Java Restrictions With Management Tools

Enable Java, or disable Java? In fact, using Java doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. "There are multiple approaches to mitigating this issue, depending on a variety of factors, such as network architecture, the degree of employee IT literacy or other security measures running at the network perimeter," said Bitdefender's Botezatu.

For example, for businesses that don't outright block Java extensions in employees' browsers, "there are a number of third-party group policy tools that offer a high level of centralized management for the Java environment," said Botezatu. He named PolicyPak as one possibility, noting that "this centralized management application also allows remote disabling of Java in the event of a serious flaw."

"Alternatively, basic settings can be configured via GPO (Group Policies) by the network administrator to disable plug-ins [on a] per browser [basis], or to enforce additional security restrictions on Java," he said.

6. Lock Down Java Extension With White List

For any business that keeps its Java browser extensions activated, veteran Oracle bug-finder Adam Gowdiak, who heads the Poland-based firm Security Explorations, recommends never accessing untrusted websites when Java is enabled. In other words, if you have to access a website that requires Java in the browser, then enable it, visit the site, and promptly disable Java. But good luck enforcing that approach with employees.

Another approach is to use a browser extension that runs interference. For example, NoScript for Firefox offers whitelisting for websites, so only known-trusted sites can be allowed to run Java in the browser.

7. Consider Maintaining Separate, Java-Only Browser

Another workaround for the Java security risk is to designate one browser for general use, on which Java hasn't been installed. Then use an entirely different browser for any site that requires Java. "At this moment, we are advising users to only enable the Java plug-in in a browser they use for specific tasks -- not in the primary browser used for Web surfing," said Botezatu.

8. Oracle: Patch Faster

Beyond point technologies for securing Java, Gowdiak at Security Explorations said via email that Oracle could improve Java security simply by devoting more resources to fixing its code. "Oracle should rethink its Java patch release policy," he said. "The company needs to take into account that critical security flaws in its widely used Java software may affect hundreds of millions of users. Months of delays in delivering a patch for a security bug may unnecessarily expose users to the risk of being attacked."

9. Upcoming: New Java Every Two Years

One timing change announced by Oracle -- just last week -- is that with the introduction of Java 8, which is scheduled to be released in September, it plans to begin releasing new versions of the open source software every two years. According to Oracle, the increasing complexity of Java has made it more difficult for the company to release new versions of the software in a timely manner.

But will the change lead to marked security improvements? "It's difficult to actually conclude anything" based on the new Java updating announcement, said Gowdiak. "The two-year cycle for major Java releases does not [guarantee] that Java code would be more secure or that patches for security vulnerabilities found would be released quicker."

10. Improvement: Separate Desktop Java From Browser Java

To make it easier for businesses to secure Java, Oracle could also ship different types of Java separately. "The [security] problem is exacerbated by the bundling of the browser extension -- used by websites to create more interactive components -- with the main Java runtime environment, used to create desktop applications," said DeMesy at Stach & Liu. "This often results in end users unknowingly installing and exposing the Java browser plug-in to attackers."

In other words, one quick fix would be to allow businesses to install the Java runtime environment on desktops, without having to install the browser extension as well. "Since so few websites legitimately use the Java Web browser extension, it is most prudent to disable it entirely," said DeMesy, or else to "only re-enable it for specific sites determined to be trustworthy."