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Six months on, Macs still plagued by critical Java vuln

No Java applets for you!

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More than six months after Sun Microsystems warned that a flaw in its Java virtual machine made it trivial for attackers to execute malware on end users' machines, the vulnerability remains unpatched on Apple's Mac platform.

Most other operating systems, including Windows and major Linux distributions, fixed the bug months ago. That's a good thing given it is actively being exploited in the wild. Penetration testers, including Immunity and VUPEN Security, consider the threat significant enough to offer their customers exploit code that tests against the bug.

"This bug, and others like it, are essentially 'write once, own all' type deals," Immunity researcher Bas Alberts wrote in an email to The Reg. "So yeah, they're fairly interesting to people on the offense side of the fence."

The company's exploit code targeting the vulnerability is written in Java and works equally well on targets running Windows, Linux or OS X.

And yet Apple has so far taken no action, despite issuing major OS X upgrades just last week.

"In general Apple has been a little slower to apply upstream security updates in Java," said Dino Dai Zovi, an independent security researcher and co-author of The Mac Hacker's Handbook. "Whenever basically they're lagging behind a vulnerability that's out and known, it's pretty significant. Potential hackers don't have to discover anything new; they can use a vulnerability that's already released."

To be fair to Apple, the company's developers are responsible for writing and testing their own Java patches. There's no such requirement on Microsoft developers, since Sun provides Java fixes on that platform. Still, if Hewlett-Packard, Red Hat, and Suse can patch their platforms, you'd think Apple could do to the same. An Apple spokeswoman didn't respond to an email requesting comment.

That means security-conscious Mac users will need to take matters in to their own hands. Security researcher Landon Fuller recommends here that OS X users disable Java applets in their browsers and disable the "Open safe files after downloading" setting in Safari. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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