Can You Get Rid of Java?

The most frequent source of malware infections is Java. Due to the recent rash of zero-day vulnerabilities, many security experts recommend removing this programming language from all systems.

Three billion devices run Java, according to Oracle. Although disabling or uninstalling the script from home computers probably won’t have much of an effect on the typical home user, it’s not that simple to do so from enterprise endpoints when it’s used in so many business applications. Because enterprises depend heavily on this code for their internal business applications, IT security groups are concerned that removing it would break these applications.

Worse yet, some vendors provide tools that are bundled with or require vulnerable versions of Java.

An Old Cup of Java

One example is the Microsoft Forefront client. According to this Microsoft Tech Note, “For Java client components, client computers require JRE version 1.5. No other JRE version is supported.” This version includes hundreds of known vulnerabilities. It’s ironic that a security product could introduce multiple vulnerabilities that can be exploited to infect systems with malware. Fortunately, it seems that the Microsoft compatibility claims aren’t accurate, as machines have been seen running the Forefront client with JRE 7.

Another example comes from a recent blog from Brian Krebs regarding a free developer tool called SiteBuilder. This tool, offered by Yahoo, is bundled with an unsafe version of Java released over four years ago. Offered to millions of users, this tool introduces hundreds of known critical security vulnerabilities that can be used to remotely compromise the host PC.

A Lose-Lose Situation

This presents a significant problem for enterprise security teams. Removing Java and its vulnerable versions from enterprise endpoints is often impractical since many organizations need it to run system and Web applications. Moreover, vulnerable versions are bundled in a number of third-party vendor applications and some technical and creative development tools. If enterprises can’t remove the language from user endpoints, how can enterprises mitigate the risk of Java zero-day exploits?

IBM Security Trusteer Apex Advanced Malware Protection delivers a transparent solution that prevents exploitation of both known and zero-day, or unknown, Java vulnerabilities. Trusteer Apex’s distinctive Lockdown for Java feature enables the safe use of Java applications while preventing untrusted Java applications from executing high risk actions, such as writing to the file system or making changes to the registry. This helps ensure that legitimate business applications and virtually any Java application which performs non-risky action (such as displays functions) will not be disrupted, while malicious applications will be blocked from compromising the endpoint.

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George Tubin

Sr. Security Strategist

George Tubin is the Senior Security Strategist for Trusteer, an IBM company, where he heads the thought leadership program to advance online and mobile banking security and adoption, and advise enterprises on best practices for protecting corporate assets from targeted attacks. With over 25 years in the banking and high-technology industries, his areas of expertise include consumer online and mobile banking, online fraud and identity theft prevention, and enterprise fraud management strategies.