Sun has disclosed a serious vulnerability in the Java Plug-in technology within the Software Developers’ Kit (SDK) and the Java Run-time Environment (JRE) that allows attackers to bypass the Java sandbox and Java applet security.
The episode is potentially damaging for Sun. Its CEO Scott McNealy has repeatedly emphasised the secure nature of Java in comparison to Microsoft's alternatives. "When was the last time you heard of a Java virus?” he asked an audience in Berlin at the end of last year.
Beloff said McNealy’s claims for Java were "reasonable, because it was designed to be more secure, and it’s a good design." He added that the idea of the sandbox, put forward by Sun in the mid-90s to enable applets to run within protected environments, was "very good from the security point of view" and one which, at the time, had distinguished Java applets from rival technologies such as Microsoft’s COM components.
In disclosing the vulnerability, Sun says there is no workaround, and recommends that users of SDK and its JRE subset move to versions 1.4.2_06 and later or 1.3.1_13 and later - both of which are available from java.sun.com.
Update: Late on 24 November, Sun gave this statement regarding the hole: "Sun is aware that a possible security vulnerability in the Java Virtual Machine was found by Secunia, and has been collaborating with them on quickly addressing the issue. Although there have been no reported cases of this potential vulnerability being exploited by hackers, Sun takes this issue seriously, as it does all security issues.
"Sun began distributing the upgrade that addressed the vulnerability in early October to its customers, and this week posted the security alert and the updated version of the Java Runtime Environment that eradicates a possible vulnerability to the general public. Sun will not speculate on the vulnerability or scenarios under which it could possibly be exploited. The upgrade is available at the www.sun.com/developers website."