* Dept of Homeland Security: Java vulnerable to hackers
* Could be used to steal identity, form malicious networks
* Applies to browsers on all major operating systems
By Jim Finkle
Jan 11 The U.S. Department of Homeland Security
urged computer users to disable Oracle Corp's Java
software, amplifying security experts' prior warnings to the
hundreds of millions of consumers and businesses that use it to
surf the Web.
Hackers have figured out a way to exploit Java to install
malicious software enabling them to commit crimes ranging from
identity theft to making an infected computer part of an ad-hoc
network of computers that can be used to attack websites.
"We are currently unaware of a practical solution to this
problem," the Department of Homeland Security's Computer
Emergency Readiness Team said in a posting on its website late
"This and previous Java vulnerabilities have been widely
targeted by attackers, and new Java vulnerabilities are likely
to be discovered," the agency said. "To defend against this and
future Java vulnerabilities, disable Java in Web browsers."
Java is a computer language that enables programmers to
write software utilizing just one set of code that will run on
virtually any type of computer, including ones that use
Microsoft Corp's Windows, Apple Inc's OS X and
Linux, an operating system widely employed by corporations.
Computer users access Java programs through modules, or
plug-ins, that run Java software on top of browsers such as
Internet Explorer and Firefox.
The U.S. government's warning on Java came after security
experts earlier on Thursday warned of the newly discovered flaw.
It is relatively rare for government agencies to advise
computer users to completely disable software due to a security
bug, particularly in the case of widely used programs such as
Java. They typically recommend taking steps to mitigate the risk
of attack while manufacturers prepare an update, or hold off on
publicizing the problem until an update is prepared.
In September, the German government advised the public to
temporarily stop using Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser to
give it time to patch a security vulnerability that opened it to
The Department of Homeland Security said that attackers
could trick targets into visiting malicious websites that would
infect their PCs with software capable of exploiting the bug in
It said that an attacker could also infect a legitimate
website by uploading malicious software that would infect
machines of computer users who trust that site because they have
previously visited it without experiencing any problems.
They said developers of several popular tools known as
exploit kits, which criminal hackers use to attack PCs, have
added software that allows hackers to exploit the newly
discovered bug in Java to attack computers.
Security experts have been scrutinizing the safety of Java
since a similar security scare in August, which prompted some of
them to advise using the software only on an as-needed basis.
At the time they advised businesses to only allow their
workers to use Java browser plug-ins when prompted for
permission by trusted programs such as GoToMeeting, a Web-based
collaboration tool from Citrix Systems Inc.
Adam Gowdiak, a researcher with Polish security firm
Security Explorations, subsequently said that he had found other
security bugs in Java that continued to make computers
vulnerable to attack.
Java suffered another setback in October when Apple began
removing old versions of the software from Internet browsers of
Mac computers when its customers installed new versions of its
OS X operating system. Apple did not provide a reason for the
change and both companies declined comment at the time.