Oracle fixes 42 holes in Java to revive security confidence

Oracle CorpSeries of big security flaws in the Java plug-in have been uncovered in the past year by researchers. (Reuters)

Oracle Corp released a major security update on Tuesday for the version of Java programming language that runs inside Web browsers to make it a less popular target for hackers. The patch fixes 42 vulnerabilities within Java, including "the vast majority" of those that have been rated as the most critical, said Oracle Executive Vice President Hasan Rizvi.

A series of big security flaws in the Java plug-in for browsers have been uncovered in the past year by researchers and hackers, and some have been used by criminal groups before previous patches were issued. One widespread hacking campaign disclosed this year infected computers using Microsoft Corp's Windows and Apple software inside hundreds of companies, including Facebook, Apple Inc and Twitter.

The situation grew so bad earlier this year that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security recommended that computer users disable Java in the browser. But many large companies use internal software that relies on Java and have been pressing Oracle to make the language safer.

Perhaps the most significant change will be that, in the default setting, sites will not be able to force the small programs known as Java applets to run in the browser unless they have been digitally signed. Users can override that only if they click to acknowledge the risk, Rizvi said.

Not all known problems are being fixed with the current patch, but there are no unpatched problems that are being actively exploited, Rizvi said. Primarily a database software and applications company, Oracle inherited Java when it bought Sun Microsystems in 2010. It is the company's greatest exposure to the mass market, as versions of Java run on desktops, in telephones and other devices and on servers.

The browser version, however, has been especially prone to security problems. Last year, Java surpassed Adobe Systems Inc's Reader software as the most frequently attacked piece of software, according to security software maker Kaspersky Lab.

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