Archive for April, 2013

Java Update Plugs 42 Security Holes

April 16, 2013

Oracle Corp. today released an update for its Java SE software that fixes at least 42 security flaws in the widely-installed program and associated browser plugin. The Java update also introduces new features designed to alert users about the security risks of running certain Java content.

42bbJava 7 Update 21 contains 42 new security fixes for Oracle Java SE. A majority of these flaws are browse-to–a-hacked-site-and-get-infected vulnerabilities. According to Oracle, “39 of these vulnerabilities may be remotely exploitable without authentication, i.e., may be exploited over a network without the need for a username and password” [emphasis mine].

There does not appear to be any update for Java 6. Oracle was to stop shipping security fixes for Java 6 in February, but it broke from that schedule last month when it shipped an emergency update for Java 6 to fix a flaw that was being used in active attacks. When I updated a machine running the latest Java 6 version (Update 43) it prompted me to install Java 7 Update 21. Update, 5:42 p.m. ET: Twitter follower @DonaldOJDK notes that Java 6 Update 45 is indeed available here.

javawarningsJava 7 Update 21 also introduces some new security warnings and message prompts for users who keep the program plugged into a Web browser (on installation and updating, Java adds itself as an active browser plugin). Oracle said the messages that will be presented depend upon different risk factors, such as using old versions of Java or running applet code that is not signed from a trusted Certificate Authority.

Apps that present a lower risk display a simple informational message. This includes an option to prevent showing similar messages for apps from the same publisher in the future. Java applications considered to be higher risk — such as those that use an untrusted or expired certificate — will be accompanied by a prompt with a yellow exclamation point in a yellow warning triangle.

 

As Ars Technica writes, Oracle introduced a similar dialog message scheme late last year, but as previously reported by Ars, it doesn’t check the validity of application certificates. It’s a shortcoming that makes it easy for attackers to bypass the protection. That’s because it presents certificates as trustworthy even when they’ve been reported as stolen and added to publicly available revocation databases. The failure of Java to check certificate revocation lists came to light last month after Java gave the green light to a malicious app even though the digital certificate signing it had been revoked by the company that owned it.

I’ve long urged end users to uninstall Java unless they have a specific use for it (this advice does not scale for businesses, which often have complex custom applications that rely on Java). This widely installed and powerful program is riddled with security holes, and is a favorite target of malware writers and miscreants. Rather than ask users to discern the safety of applications using yellow triangles, blue shields, green clovers or orange stars, I’ll keep telling users to get rid of Java entirely.

If you do need it, unplug it from the browser unless and until you need it. Java 7 lets users 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.

There are a couple of ways to find out if you have Java installed and what version may be running.  Windows users can click Start, then Run, then type “cmd” without the quotes. At the command prompt, type “java -version” (again, no quotes). Users also can visit Java.com and click the “Do I have Java?” link on the homepage. Updates also should be available via the Java Control Panel or from Java.com. Mac OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard) users who have Java should check Software Update for any available updates. Mac OS X 10.7 (Lion) and 10.8 (Mountain Lion) users can grab the updated version of Java from Java.com.

Critical Fixes for Windows, Flash & Shockwave

April 9, 2013
The second Tuesday of the month is upon us, and that means it’s once again time to get your patches on, people (at least for readers running Windowsor Adobe products). Microsoft today pushed out nine patch bundles to plug security holes in Windows and its other products. Separately, Adobe issued updates for its Flash and Shockwave media players that address four distinct security holes in each program.

winiconMicrosoft called special attention to a cumulative update for Internet Explorer that fixes two critical vulnerabilities present in virtually every version of IE ever produced, including IE 9, 10 and IE on Windows RT, the operating system for mobile devices and tablets.

The other critical patch in the bunch addresses a dangerous vulnerability in the Windows Remote Desktop Client, which allows systems to be managed remotely. For a rundown of the other updates released today, check out the Qualys blog, the Microsoft Security Bulletin Summary for April 2013 and the Microsoft Security Response Blog.

Adobe’s update brings Adobe Flash Player to v. 11.7.700.169 on Windows and Mac devices (the latest version numbers for other operating systems are listed in the chart below). Internet Explorer 10 and Google Chrome should automatically update to the latest version. Google has already pushed out the Flash update with Chrome v. 26.0.1410.63 for Mac and Linux, and v. 26.0.1410.64 for Windows; if your Chrome version isn’t at the latest (you can check which version by clicking the customize tab to the right of the address bar and then “About Google Chrome’), try closing and restarting the browser.

Flash11-7-700-169

This link should tell you which version of Flash your browser has installed. The most recent versions are available from the Adobe download center, but beware potentially unwanted add-ons, like McAfee Security Scan). To avoid this, uncheck the pre-checked box before downloading, or grab your OS-specific Flash download from here. Windows users who browse the Web with anything other than Internet Explorer will need to apply this patch twice, once with IE and again using the alternative browser (FirefoxOpera, e.g.).

Adobe also issued an update for its Shockwave Player software that fixes at least four vulnerabilities, bringing Shockwave to v. 12.0.2.122 on Windows and Mac systems. Shockwave is one of those programs that I’ve urged readers to remove or avoid installing. Like Java, it is powerful and very often buggy software that many people have installed but do not really need for everyday Web browsing. Securing your system means not only making sure things are locked down, but removing unneeded programs, and Shockwave is near the top of my list on that front.

If you visit this link and see a short animation, it should tell you which version of Shockwave you have installed. If it prompts you to download Shockwave, then you don’t have Shockwave installed and in all likelihood don’t need it. Firefox users should note that the presence of the Shockwave Flash plugin listed in the Firefox Add-ons section denotes an installation of Adobe Flash Player plugin — not Adobe Shockwave.

Finally, if you have Adobe AIR installed (required by some programs like Tweetdeck and Pandora Desktop), you’ll want to update this program. AIR ships with an auto-update function that should prompt users to update when they start an application that requires it; the newest, patched version is 3.7.0.1530 for Windows, Mac, and Android.

If all of this patch craziness has your head spinning, consider using some free tools to help automate the process for you. File Hippo’s Update Checker works great on this front, as does Secunia’s Personal Software Inspector (I prefer PSI 2 over PSI 3, but your mileage may vary). And, as ever, if you experience any problems or interesting issues applying the Windows updates or any of the other patches, please drop a note in the comments section below.