In first, Apple issues Java update in sync with Oracle

For the first time, Apple has updated Java for Mac OS X on the same day Oracle patched vulnerabilities in the application framework that has become a favorite target of hackers.

On Tuesday, Oracle released Java 6 Update 33 and Java 7 Update 5, which collectively fixed 14 vulnerabilities. Apple followed suit with Java update 1.6.0_33, which fixed 11 of the 14 flaws.

"This is the first time that I can ever recall Apple actually doing a reasonable job with a patch for Java from Oracle," Paul Henry, security and forensic analyst from Lumension, said. "Normally, it's many, many months."

Those previous delays caught up with Apple in April when roughly 650,000 Macs worldwide were infected with the Flashback malware after the company released a patch for Java six weeks after Oracle. Oracle owns Java through the 2009 acquisition of Sun Microsystems.

While security experts commended Apple for the timely release, they were still unhappy with the company's closed-mouth approach to security. For example, in the latest release, Apple has given no explanation for not patching three of the vulnerabilities.

"We don't know why Apple only used 11 of the 14 Java updates Oracle released," Andrew Storms, director of security operations for nCircle, said in an e-mail. "It could be that not all the bugs fixed in the three extra updates are applicable to the Mac, and it could be something else entirely."

While that lack of disclosure doesn't stop consumers from buying Macs, it does keep many corporations on the sidelines, Henry said.

"To me, that's a showstopper for them," Henry said. "I really have to be reluctant on recommending the product for the enterprise, because they just seem so adamant against talking about any security issues."

In comparison, Microsoft, which dominates the corporate PC market with Windows, takes the opposite approach and works closely with the security industry. "Microsoft, for all its faults, does probably the best job of informing the public regarding vulnerabilities and patches in their products," Henry said.

Apple tends to lump its security releases along with its product updates and improvements, which plays down the seriousness of any vulnerabilities. "If they're going to discount something as being a feature enhancement or a patch on performance, and it in fact corrects a vulnerability, some users may put off applying that patch, leaving themselves woefully exposed," Henry said.

Mac users are dependent on Apple for all security fixes to Mac OS X, because third-party software vendors, such as Oracle, are not allowed to ship patches directly. When Apple drops the ball with Java, customers are left at risk, because the platform has become a favorite target of hackers.

Cyber-criminals take advantage of the fact that many PC users fall behind in installing the many Java updates released each year. At the same time, the pool of potential victims among Mac users is growing. Apple's share of the U.S. PC market has grown to roughly 10 percent of shipments, according to IDC.

Read more about application security in CSOonline's Application Security section.

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