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Scoop on Java: If exploited, this platform can cause real trouble tech talk Nick DeLorenzo


February 20. 2013 2:27AM
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Having Java on your computer could be grounds for concern.


I'm not talking about coffee, or the Pacific Island. In the computer world, Java is a programming language.


Many computers have software installed that allow them to run programs written in Java, typically the Java Runtime Environment (JRE), and the Java Virtual Machine (JVM).


This software is notable because it has versions that work on almost every computer – PC, Mac and Linux. It also powers mobile devices, televisions and set-top television boxes and a whole host of other hardware. Nearly 900 million computers have Java installed worldwide.


But there's a problem with Java.


On Jan.11, computer specialists, security analysts and even the U.S. Department of Homeland Security warned the public that they'd located an exploit (a vulnerability that allows hackers to gain access to or control of a user's computer) in the latest version of Java, and advised users to uninstall the platform.


The most unsettling thing about this security breach, aside from the large number of computers running the software, is the type of program that hackers are generally installing when they access an unsuspecting person's computer. Called ransomware, these programs force victims to pay to have their computers returned to them.


Oracle, the developer of the Java platform, released a patch to correct the issue, but despite this, security analysts warned that vulnerabilities remained and restated their recommendation that users remove Java from their machines entirely.


I agree with the Department of Homeland Security and others recommending the removal of Java from computers. Java, due to the level of control it allows Internet applications to exert over a computer, always has posed security problems, and modern Web technologies have largely replaced much of the functionality that only Java once allowed.


I want to draw a clear distinction between the Java Platform, which contains the vulnerabilities I've mentioned, and JavaScript, a similarly named scripting language built into nearly every Web browser that does not have the same risks associated with it. JavaScript is very widely used, and disabling it could result in substantial problems when viewing modern websites. JavaScript originally was created to compliment Java, but the two have since diverged widely. It is not necessary, nor is it recommended, that users disable JavaScript.


Java, on the other hand, is a separately installed program that interfaces with both computer hardware and software, and therein lies the danger.


Disabling Java on a computer is relatively simple, and can be done by accessing your Control Panel or System Preferences screen, clicking on the Java icon (which looks like line art of a steaming coffee cup), and unchecking the Enable Java content in the browser box at the very top, then selecting OK or Apply.


That said, I'm not responsible for any adverse side-effects this might have. Some older programs and websites still use Java for a variety of reasons, but weighed against the risk of not being able to use your computer at all, I'd say it's a fair trade-off. Java always left a bad taste in my mouth anyway.


Nick DeLorenzo is director of interactive and new media for The Times Leader. Email him at ndelorenzo@timesleader.com.




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