Oracle's Java is making headlines this week -- for all the wrong reasons. Oracle patched a whopping 76 security holes in hundreds of products that carry its brand name last month. But hackers are nonetheless haunting the holes and some are suggesting enterprises scrap Java.
At some level, it should come as no surprise. Kaspersky Labs listed Java in its top 10 vulnerabilities list in its second-quarter threat report. And Microsoft's Security Intelligence Report 11 said Java is "responsible for between one-third and one-half of all exploits."
Now, Java is at the root of exploits once again. The US-CERT/National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIT) is sounding the alarm on a vulnerability in the Java Runtime Environment component in just about every recent version of the software. According to the US-CERT/NIST, the vulnerability allows hackers to remotely access computers.
Cyber thieves and hackers are always looking for a new way to obtain sensitive information, and infected Web sites continue to prove to be one of the best, according to Bill Morrow, executive chairman of Web browser information security firm Quarri Technologies.
"Java's recently patched critical security flaw is the latest example of how the bad guys can take advantage of the unsuspecting end-user," Morrow said. "Java exploits are most effective when included in exploit packs since they can turn any hacked Web site into a particularly dangerous place for end-users."
Morrow pointed to the browser at the end point as the weakest part of any network -- one wrong click of the mouse can open a company's most sensitive data to significant threats. This is not a new truth, but one that continues to be proven.
"As companies of all sizes increasingly use browsers as the primary platform for the delivery of information, browsers have also become the primary point of theft or data leakage, by not only malware, but also by end-users," Morrow said.
"Not knowing the security state of the endpoint is a critical security gap for a Web site or Web application owner. Providing and enforcing usage of a secure, hardened browser session is the best way to protect your data."
Java exploits are notoriously successful when bundled into commercial exploit packs, software kits that can turn a hacked Web site into a virtual minefield for Web users who aren't keeping up to date with the latest security patches, said security researcher Brian Krebs in a blog post.
"Users would need only to browse to a booby-trapped site with a version of Mozilla Firefox or Internet Explorer that is running anything older than the latest Java package, and the site could silently install malware (according to a miscreant selling access to the exploit, it does not run reliably against Google Chrome for some reason)," he said.
Krebs said the BlackHole exploit kit makes it possible to exploit the vulnerability. He said the hacker behind the exploit kit is rolling it out for free to existing license holders, but is charging $4,000 to everyone else. With the continued security of Java in the spotlight, Krebs is urging people who don't need Java to junk it.
"For those who need Java for the occasional site or service, disconnecting it from the browser plugins and temporarily reconnecting when needed is one way to minimize issues with this powerful program," he said. "Leaving the Java plugin installed in a secondary browser that is only used for sites or services that require Java is another alternative."