* Java vulnerable to hackers, U.S. government says
* 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
hundreds of millions of consumers and businesses that use it to
surf the Web.
Hackers have figured out how 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."
Oracle declined on Friday to comment on the warning.
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 warned on Thursday 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
Java is so widely used that the software has become a prime
target for hackers. Last year Oracle's Java surpassed Adobe
Systems Inc's Reader software as the most frequently
attacked piece of software, according to security software maker
Java was responsible for 50 percent of all cyber attacks
last year in which hackers broke into computers by exploiting
software bugs, according Kaspersky. That was followed by Adobe
Reader, which was involved in 28 percent of all incidents.
Microsoft Windows and Internet Explorer were involved in about 3
percent of incidents, according to the survey.
The Department of Homeland Security said attackers could
trick targets into visiting malicious websites that would infect
their PCs with software capable of exploiting the bug in Java.
It said 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 allow their workers
to use Java browser plug-ins only when prompted for permission
by trusted programs such as GoToMeeting, a Web-based
collaboration tool from Citrix Systems Inc.
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 to comment at the time.
Adam Gowdiak, a researcher with Polish security firm
Security Explorations, told Reuters he believes that Oracle
fails to properly test its software fixes for security flaws.
"It's definitely safer for users to stay away from Java 'til
Oracle starts taking security seriously," he said.