Critical Java Update Fixes 50 Security Holes

Oracle Corp. has issued an update for its Java SE software that plugs at least 50 security holes in the software, including one the company said was actively being exploited in the wild.

javaiconThe original Critical Patch Update for Java SE – February 2013 had been scheduled to be released on February 19th, but Oracle said it decided to accelerate the release of this update because of active exploitation in the wild of one of the vulnerabilities.

“Due to the threat posed by a successful attack, Oracle strongly recommends that customers apply…fixes as soon as possible,” the company wrote in an advisory.

I couldn’t find a definitive account of which zero-day vulnerability in Java had caused Oracle to move up its patch schedule, but recently researchers have uncovered flaws in a mechanism that the company shipped with the previous version of Java that was designed to thwart attacks on the program. With Java 7 Update 10, Oracle introduced a mechanism that would require users to manually allow the execution of Java code not digitally signed by a trusted authority. Some security experts praised Oracle for adding the feature because it promised to drastically reduce the success of attacks that exploit security bugs in Java, but researchers have shown that the new feature can be easily bypassed.

The latest versions — Java 7 Update 13 and Java 6 to Update 39 — are available either through the updater built into Java (accessible from the Windows control panel), or by visiting If you’re not sure which version you have or whether you’ve got the program installed at all, click the “Do I have Java” link below the red download button on the homepage.

Most end users who have Java on their systems probably don’t need it and can safely remove it (this advice does not scale for users of corporate systems, which may have specific applications that rely on Java). This is a buggy program that seems to produce a reliable stream of zero-day exploit opportunities for malware writers. So, if you don’t need it, junk it.

If you do need it, unplug it from the browser unless and until you need it. Starting with Java 7 Update 10, it is possible to disable Java content in web browsers through the Java control panel applet. Alternatively, consider a dual-browser approach, unplugging Java from the browser you use for everyday surfing, and leaving it plugged in to a second browser that you only use for sites that require Java.

Apple has been taking steps to block Java on OS X systems when new unpatched vulnerabilities have been detected. According to MacRumors, for the second time in a month, Apple blacklisted the current version of the Java Web plugin on OS X, using the “Xprotect” anti-malware system built into OS X to enforce a minimum version number that had yet to be released. However, now writes that Java 7 Update 13 for Mac OS X brings Java on the Mac to the correct version number enforced by Xprotect, meaning Mac users who need Java can use it again without having to monkey with Terminal command-line workarounds.

This is the final set of updates for Java 6 — Oracle is phasing it out and has already taken steps to begin migrating Java 6 users to Java 7. Overall, this probably a good thing. Lawrence Garvin, the self-described “head geek” at Austin, Texas based network management and monitoring firm SolarWinds, said that while media attention to Java 7’s security issues may be influencing the decision by some organizations to delay upgrading their Java 6 installations, only 18 of the security issues identified since Java 7’s release are unique to Java 7.

“Of the 84 vulnerabilities identified since Java 7’s release, we found that 66 of these existed in Java 6, while 40 existed in Java 5,” Garvin said. “Press coverage around Java 7’s security issues may be influencing some organizations to fail to upgrade their Java 6 installations to Java 7, thinking that Java 7 is flawed, when in fact the entire core of theJava platform has vulnerabilities. Oracle has announced that no new updates will be forthcoming for Java 6 after February 2013, so that any additional vulnerability discovered in Java 7 – and also existing in Java 6 – will never be patched.”

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