Researcher unearths two new Java zero-day bugs

Vulnerabilities affect up-to-date Java 7 browser plug-in, says Security Explorations

A Polish security firm known for rooting out Java vulnerabilities has reported two new bugs in the browser plug-in to Oracle, Security Explorations said today.

On its bug-reporting status page, Security Explorations noted that it had submitted details of the flaws, including proof-of-concept exploit code, to Oracle.

"We had yet another look into Oracle's Java SE 7 software that was released by the company on Feb. 19," said Adam Gowdiak, in an email reply to questions today. "As a result, we have discovered two new security issues, which when combined together, can be successfully used to gain a complete Java security sandbox bypass in the environment of Java SE 7 Update 15 (1.7.0_15-b03)."

Oracle shipped Java 7 Update 15 (7u15) on Feb. 19, bundling patches first released in a Feb. 1 emergency update with fixes for five more vulnerabilities.

The new vulnerabilities affect only Java 7, said Gowdiak in another email. Java 6, which Oracle has officially retired from support, does not contain the bugs.

Java has faced an increasing number of "zero-day" vulnerabilities, bugs that are exploited by criminals before those flaws are patched, or even known by the vendor. Oracle has been forced to rush out patches twice this year to close those holes.

Oracle's latest embarrassment stemmed from a barrage of announcements by several major technology companies, including Facebook, Apple and Microsoft, that hackers exploited a Java vulnerability to hijack computers, including Macs, belonging to their engineers.

Those attacks originated from a popular online forum for iOS developers, iPhoneDevSDK, which hackers had previously compromised, then set up to conduct "drive-by" attacks with Java exploits.

"We were truly surprised to learn that so many high-tech companies had been the victim of a Java security vulnerability," Gowdiak said today. "It looks [like] the warnings regarding Java security problems [that] we've been carrying since April 2012 have not been heard in all of Silicon Valley."

The newest vulnerabilities can be combined to circumvent Java's anti-exploit "sandbox" technology, Gowdiak confirmed, and used to attack machines whose browsers have the Java plug-in installed. He declined to share more information pending a patch from Oracle, other than to say they involved Java's Reflection API (application programming interface).

"Without going into further details, everything indicates that the ball is in Oracle's court. Again," said Gowdiak.

Not surprisingly, other security experts today again urged users to disable or even uninstall Java.

"Here's the best piece of advice we can give you right now: If you don't need Java enabled in your browser...turn it off now," said Graham Cluley, a senior technology consultant at Sophos, in a post to his company's blog. "Many people who have Java enabled in their browser simply do not need it, so the best solution for many folks is to rip Java out of their browser entirely."

Security professionals have long called on Oracle to step up its Java security game, but the wave of zero-days has triggered more aggressive advice, including reworking Java from the ground up.

For its part, Oracle has pledged to accelerate patching, but so far has committed to adding only one additional patch day to 2013's every-four-month schedule.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is

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