Businesses are growing worried about drive-by infections by malware that exploits two zero-day Java vulnerabilities.
Attackers, apparently operating from China, chained the two vulnerabilities together to defeat Java 7 security settings, allowing them to execute arbitrary code on targeted PCs. But the exploit code has since been added to attack toolkits and used in new, targeted attacks.
Here are six facts that businesses need to know about the vulnerabilities being exploited, as well as how to protect their users:
1. Warning: Uninstall Java, Or Maybe Disable
Security experts have recommended that users disable all Java browser plug-ins, pending a patch from Oracle.
US-CERT has offered detailed instructions about how to disable Java in Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer browsers. But it warned that where IE is concerned, nuking the Java plug-in isn't a straightforward manner, as "there are multiple ways for a Web page to invoke a Java applet, and multiple ways to configure Java plug-in support."
[ Windows 7 and 8 password clues are vulnerable to attack. See Windows Password Clues Easy To Crack. ]
In fact, at least for IE users, US-CERT suggested that the difficulties involved in disabling Java might require stronger measures. "Due to the complexity and impracticality of disabling Java in Internet Explorer, you may wish to uninstall Java to protect against this vulnerability."
2. Oracle Learned Of Vulnerabilities Four Months Ago
Is Oracle patching critical vulnerabilities in Java quickly enough? Sunday, FireEye went public with details of a never-before-seen attack. In response, some security researchers this week criticized the company for behaving irresponsibly by not having worked with Oracle to patch the flaws before disclosing them publicly.
But IDG News reported Wednesday that Polish vulnerability research company Security Explorations disclosed the two exploited vulnerabilities to Oracle--including detailed proof-of-exploit attack code--more than four months ago, on April 2. "Among a total of 19 weaknesses discovered, there are issues that allow to either create a specific Java security bypass condition or that facilitate the exploitation process of a certain type of vulnerabilities," according to a press release issued by Security Explorations. The firm said it had developed reliable proof-of-concept exploits for all of the vulnerabilities, including 12 mock attacks "that demonstrate a complete JVM security sandbox bypass."
"Why critical remote code execution vulnerabilities were not fixed in Oracle's June patch is unknown," said Chester Wisniewski, a senior security advisor at Sophos Canada, in a blog post. "Oracle has yet to acknowledge these publicly, but had set expectations with Security Explorations that they were to be fixed in October."
3. Vulnerability Added To BlackHole Within Hours
The seriousness of the new Java exploits can be measured by the speed with which exploit toolkit authors updated their software to make use of the exploit. According to Wisniewski at Sophos, "it took less than 12 hours from the time the proof of concept for the latest Java zero-day vulnerabilities went public for exploits of those vulnerabilities to be included in a commercial crimeware kit"--namely, the BlackHole toolkit.
Of course, BlackHole isn't the only exploit kit on the market. "Exploit competition heats up. Latest Java exploit added to Redkit exploit kit too," tweeted Mikko Hypponen, chief research officer at F-Secure, about the Russian-language RedKit, a relatively new exploit kit that competes with the BlackHole and Phoenix crimeware packs, and which gained notoriety earlier this year for targeting a new Java exploit.