Java security comes down to 'war of attrition'

Users and Oracle both need to do their part against a malware industrial complex that can quickly attack any security hole

Oracle will have to fight a war of attrition to keep Java secure, a security analyst said this week in reflecting on the latest malady affecting the standard edition of Java.

While Java is again under attack, as it has been for the past year or so, Ross Barrett, senior manager of security at vendor Rapid7, is confident about Java's security for the long term: "It will just be a war of attrition. Oracle will make [Java] more secure over time."

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Java users, for their part, need to get Oracle's patches, he said. "I recommend patching as quickly as you possibly can." Java, he said, was not "doomed."

The latest problem, a zero-day vulnerability, is a browser issue involving arbitrary, unsecure class-loading in Java SE (Standard Edition) 7, explained Barrett. Java's security setbacks have prompted some experts to advise disabling Java browser plug-ins. But that is not always an option when Java is ingrained in infrastructure software, noted Barrett: "A lot of people who use Java need it for their day-to-day jobs or their banking, whatever." Oracle's patch addresses the zero-day issue and strengthens security settings, he said.

An industry analyst cited the presence of an "underworld" taking advantage of lax computer security. "What is going is that the malware industrial complex has evolved into a fast-moving, well-capitalized underworld of vehicles of exploitations for hire available to anyone willing to pay," said Al Hilwa, analyst with IDC. "Automated kits are now available to capitalize on any security hole within days if not hours of them becoming known. Generally, any plug-in or add-on to a browser is going to increase the surface area for attack, and Java is no different."

Hilwa defended Oracle's performance in the wake of the security problems, saying it has not done any worse than Sun, which invented Java in 1995 and was acquired by Oracle in 2010. "However, the ante is regularly upped by the malware industry, and companies who want to be in the plug-in business are essentially engaged in an arms race so they need to step up their investment. No doubt Oracle understands this now."

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This story, "Java security comes down to 'war of attrition'" was originally published by InfoWorld.

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