Security experts advise users to not run Java in their web browsers despite a patch from Oracle that mitigates a widely exploited security vulnerability.
The database giant issued an
emergency out-of-band patch on Sunday, but despite this the US Department of Homeland Security continues to warn citizens to disable Java plugins.
"Unless it is absolutely necessary to run Java in web browsers, disable it even after updating to [Java 7 update 11]," the US-CERT team said in an update yesterday. "This will help mitigate other Java vulnerabilities that may be discovered in the future."
The security flaw (CVE-2013-0422) was weaponised last week and bundled into popular cyber-crook toolkits, such as the Blackhole Exploit Kit. These toolboxes plant malicious scripts on compromised websites that exploit security holes in passing visitors' computers to infect them with malware.
The Java 7 bug, now squashed by Oracle in its latest update, allowed miscreants to execute their own code on a victim's system and attempt to take full control of the machine. Attacks relying on this security flaw actually exploit a combination of two vulnerabilities: both involve subverting the programming platform to bypass its security manager and access restricted Java classes. Oracle's 7u11 update also patches a second albeit less serious hole.
Ross Barrett, senior manager of security engineering at Metasploit developers Rapid7, said the update is worth applying but only goes so far: further zero-day security bugs in Java are likely if not inevitable.
"This fix changes the default Java browser security settings to require user consent to execute Java applets which are not digitally signed, or are self-signed, which indicates that Oracle has made a minor concession against ease-of-use to try to protect users from the next time a Java vulnerability is exploited in the wild," Barrett said.
HD Moore, founder of Metasploit - which was later acquired by Rapid7 - added that Oracle is likely to spend at least two years sorting out shortcomings in Java's security management without even factoring in the discovery of additional bugs.
"Oracle has already spent a year working through these issues ... but will likely need another two years to fix them completely," he said.
Other security experts, such as the bods at Sophos, also back the view that running Java in the browser has become a total no-no, especially for consumers who have more control over their software than office workers using IT dept-mandated setups.
"If you can't avoid using a handful of websites that demand your browser supports Java, then why not have a different browser specifically for visiting those sites?" Sophos suggested. ®