Latest Java Flaw Bypasses Security Control, Security Researchers Say

Researchers say a bug in the latest version of Java circumvents the security controls Oracle added to the programming language last year.

Security researchers have uncovered yet another ding in the battered armor of Java security.

This time there is a vulnerability in the latest version of Java that allows attackers to execute unsigned Java code on a targeted Windows system regardless of the Java security control settings, according to findings from Security Explorations.

"Our Proof of Concept code that illustrates Issue 53 has been successfully executed in the environment of latest Java SE 7 Update 11 (JRE version 1.7.0_11-b21) under Windows 7 OS and with "Very High" Java Control Panel security settings," Adam Gowdiak, CEO of Security Explorations, wrote in a posting on a Full Disclosure mailing list.

Starting with Java SE 7 Update 10 (Java 7u10), Oracle added a new level of controls, he noted. For example, the company added the ability to disable any Java application running in the browser. The company also added the ability to set a security level of the user's choosing for unsigned applets, Java Web Start applications and embedded JavaFX applications running in a browser as well as new dialogs to warn users when the JRE is insecure.

These improvements, Gowdiak wrote, "don't prevent silent exploits at all."

"Users that require Java content in the web browser need to rely on a Click to Play technology implemented by several web browser vendors in order to mitigate the risk of a silent Java Plugin exploit," he wrote.

According to Security Explorations, Oracle confirmed it received the vulnerability report and that it will investigate it.

Late last week, Oracle released a recording of a teleconference between company representatives and members of the Java user community. In it, Milton Smith, head of Java security, said that the company planned to improve its outreach to the community in connection with security issues.

"The plan for Java security is really simple," he said. "It's to get Java fixed up number one, and then number two, to communicate our efforts widely. We really can't have one without the other."

Andrew Storms, director of security operations for nCircle, called Oracle's public discussion of the security challenges the Java browser plug-in is facing a step forward.

"It’s good to finally see Oracle acknowledge” the seriousness of the situation, he said. "Unfortunately, we needed this admission a year ago before their customers started losing trust in Java security. Now Oracle has a very steep credibility hill to climb."

Java exploits have become regular features of many of the popular exploit kits in the cyber-underworld. Blackhole for example was one of many kits that targeted CVE-2013-0422, a Java zero-day bug first seen being exploited in December. Oracle released a patch aimed at fixing the vulnerability as well as one other earlier this month. However, the company soon found itself taking more public relations hits when security researchers discovered that the update contained additional vulnerabilities and failed to address the underlying issue being exploited by attackers.

"No amount of talking or smoothing over is going to make anybody happy or do anything for us," Smith said. "We have to fix Java."