Oracle bungled the security updates of its Java SE software so badly it must publish a groveling letter prominently on its website for the next two years.
After gobbling up Java along with Sun in 2010, Oracle's software updates for Java SE would only affect the latest version installed. If you had multiple versions of Java SE on your system, only the latest would be replaced when installing or upgrading to a new release – leaving the old and insecure copies of Java SE on the system for hackers and malware to exploit. Vulnerabilities lurking in the outdated installations can be abused to hijack computers, steal passwords, and so on.
Why would you have multiple versions on one machine? Well, Oracle's hopeless code would never remove old builds of Java SE from PCs: each update would leave the old vulnerable versions in place like ticking time bombs. According to US watchdog the FTC, Oracle knew in 2011 that its software was broken, as internal documents admitted the "Java update mechanism is not aggressive enough or simply not working."
Oracle fixed its installer in August 2014 to cleanse systems of older copies of Java SE, but the FTC is still jolly cross with the California tech giant – particularly because Java SE has apparently been installed on more than 850 million PCs. The regulator sued the database goliath, accusing it of breaking consumer protection laws by lying about the security of its applications.
In a settlement announced on Monday, Oracle must provide a means for people to rid their systems of older builds of Java SE, or the corporation will face fines. It must also encourage antivirus makers Avast, AVG, ESET North America, Avira, McAfee, Symantec, and Trend Micro, and Firefox maker Mozilla, to put out security advisories about the Java SE cockup.
According to the regulator:
Oracle failed to inform consumers that the Java SE update automatically removed only the most recent prior version of the software, and did not remove any other earlier versions of Java SE that might be installed on their computer, and did not uninstall any versions released prior to Java SE version 6 update 10.
As a result, after updating Java SE, consumers could still have additional older, insecure versions of the software on their computers that were vulnerable to being hacked.
The IT titan must "notify consumers during the Java SE update process if they have outdated versions of the software on their computer, notify them of the risk of having the older software, and give them the option to uninstall it. In addition, the company will be required to provide broad notice to consumers via social media and their website about the settlement and how consumers can remove older versions of the software."
According to an order [PDF] drafted by the FTC, Oracle must put the following letter on its website for people to see:
Dear Java SE customer:
We’re sending you this message because you may have downloaded, installed, or updated Java SE software on your computer. The Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s consumer protection agency, has sued us for making allegedly deceptive security claims about Java SE. To settle the lawsuit, we agreed to contact you with instructions on how to protect the personal information on your computer by deleting older versions of Java SE from your computer. Please take the suggested steps as soon as possible.
Here’s a summary of what the FTC lawsuit is about. The FTC alleged that, in the past, when you installed or updated Java SE, it didn’t replace the version already on your computer. Instead, each version installed side-by-side at the same time. Later, after we changed this, installing or updating Java SE removed only the most recent version already on your computer. What’s more, in many cases, it didn’t remove any version released before October 2008.
Why was that a problem? Earlier versions of Java SE have serious security risks we corrected in later versions. When people downloaded a new version, we said they could keep Java SE on their computer secure by updating to the latest version or by deleting older versions using the Add/Remove Program utility in their Windows system. But according to the FTC, that wasn’t sufficient. Updating to the latest version didn’t always remove older versions. So many computers had several versions installed.
That creates a serious security vulnerability. Even if you installed the most recent version of Java SE, the personal information on your computer may be at risk because earlier, less secure versions could still be executed.
To fix this problem, visit http://java.com/uninstall, where instructions on how to uninstall older versions of Java SE are provided. This webpage also provides a link to the Java SE uninstall tool, which you can use to uninstall older versions of Java SE. You may also go to http://java.com/uninstallhelp if you have any additional questions or concerns.
To learn more about this lawsuit, call the FTC at 1-888-922-7836.
A spokesperson for Oracle declined to comment. ®