Oracle reveals plans for Java security improvements

Oracle reveals plans for Java security improvements

 Oracle plans to make changes to strengthen the security of Java,
including fixing its certificate revocation checking feature, preventing
unsigned applets from being executed by default and adding centralized
management options with whitelisting capabilities for enterprise
environments.

These changes, along with other security-related efforts, are intended
to “decrease the exploitability and severity of potential Java
vulnerabilities in the desktop environment and provide additional
security protections for Java operating in the server environment,” said
Nandini Ramani, vice president of engineering for Java Client and
Mobile Platforms at Oracle, in a blog post on Thursday.

Ramani’s blog post, which discusses “the security worthiness of Java,”
indirectly addresses some of the criticism and concerns raised by
security researchers this year following a string of successful and
widespread attacks that exploited zero-day—previously
unpatched—vulnerabilities in the Java browser plug-in to compromise
computers.

Ramani reiterated Oracle’s plans to accelerate the Java patching
schedule starting from October, aligning it with the patching schedule
for the company’s other products, and revealed some of the company’s
efforts to perform Java security code reviews.

security

”The Java development team has expanded the use of automated security
testing tools, facilitating regular coverage over large sections of Java
platform code,” she said. The team worked with Oracle’s primary
provider of source code analysis services to make these tools more
effective in the Java environment and also developed so-called “fuzzing”
analysis tools to weed out certain types of vulnerabilities.

The apparent lack of proper source code security reviews and quality assurance testing for Java 7 was one of the criticisms brought by security researchers in light of the large number of critical vulnerabilities that were found in the platform.

Ramani also noted the new security levels and warnings for Java applets—Web-based Java applications—that were introduced in Java 7 Update 10 and Java 7 Update 21 respectively.

These changes were meant to discourage the execution of unsigned or
self-signed applets, she said. “In the near future, by default, Java
will no longer allow the execution of self-signed or unsigned code.”

Such default behavior makes sense from a security standpoint considering
that most Java exploits are delivered as unsigned Java applets.
However, there have been cases of digitally signed Java exploits being used in the past and security researchers expect their number to increase.

Because of this it’s important for the Java client to be able to check
in real time the validity of digital certificates that were used to sign
applets. At the moment Java supports certificate revocation checking
through both certificate revocation lists (CRLs) and the Online
Certificate Status Protocol (OCSP), but this feature is disabled by
default.


”The feature is not enabled by default because of a potential negative
performance impact,” Ramani said. “Oracle is making improvements to
standardized revocation services to enable them by default in a future
release.”

The company is also working on adding centrally managed whitelisting
capabilities to Java, which will help businesses control what websites
are allowed to execute Java applets inside browsers running on their
computers.

Unlike most home users, many organizations can’t afford to disable the
Java browser plug-in because they need it to access Web-based
business-critical applications created in Java.

”Local Security Policy features will soon be added to Java and system
administrators will gain additional control over security policy
settings during Java installation and deployment of Java in their
organization,” Ramani said. “The policy feature will, for example, allow
system administrators to restrict execution of Java applets to those
found on specific hosts (e.g., corporate server assets, partners, etc.)
and thus reduce the risk of malware infection resulting from desktops
accessing unauthorized and malicious hosts.”

Even though the recent Java security issues have generally only impacted
Java running inside browsers, the public coverage of them has also
caused concern among organizations that use Java on servers, Ramani
said.

As a result, the company has already started to separate Java client
from server distributions with the release of the Server JRE (Java
Runtime Environment) for Java 7 Update 21 that doesn’t contain the
browser plug-in.

”In the future, Oracle will explore stronger measures to further reduce
attack surface including the removal of certain libraries typically
unnecessary for server operation,” Ramani said. However, those changes
are likely to come in future major versions of Java since introducing
them now would violate current Java specifications, she said. 

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