After criticism, Sun changes Java updates

After being blasted by security researchers, Sun is changing the way it patches Java.

Sun Microsystems is taking a page from Microsoft's security group and changing the way it updates Java for the desktop.

On Tuesday, Sun announced that it will start providing advance notification of its Java SE (Standard Edition) security updates and that it will also scrap its controversial practice of staggering the release of Java patches. Instead, it will release updates for all supported Java SE platforms simultaneously.

Sun Spokeswoman Jacki Decoster said that the changes were designed to make it easier for enterprises to patch all of their Java systems at once.

But Sun's new system also happens to remedy what some had called a serious security risk.

In July, eEye Digital Security Chief Technology Officer Marc Maiffret blasted Sun for waiting months between the release of some versions of its desktop Java. In January, Maiffret's company had discovered a serious bug in the Java Network Launching Protocol, which is used to run Java programs over the Web. But Sun made its fix for the problem available to developers several weeks before it pushed out the update to the Java community at large.

Though this practice gave attackers a chance to reverse-engineer Sun's security fixes and use them against some of Sun's 800 million desktop users, surprisingly, the Java platform has only rarely been targeted, said Andrew Storms, director of security operations with nCircle Network Security. "It's still the number-one platform for IT enterprise development in-house. But we haven't seen a whole lot of attacks against it."

Besides staggering developer and end-user releases, Sun would also wait before releasing updates to users of older versions of Java. Previously, it was standard practice for Sun to fix older versions of Java, such as J2SE 5.0 and J2SE 1.4, weeks or even months after it had patched the latest Java SE 6 software.

That will all change under the new system, which will offer simultaneous developer and end-user releases for these three versions of Java. However, users of J2SE 1.3 will have to wait until next year before their software is updated at the same time as the rest of the platform, Decoster said.

She could not say whether Sun planned to offer this type of synchronized release for its embedded or server-based Java platforms, Java ME (Micro Edition) and Java EE (Enterprise Edition).

Sun's advance notifications will not be released according to a pre-set schedule, as is the case with Microsoft and Oracle, but they will come out within a week of the actual security patches, Decoster said. Customers can receive the advance notifications via e-mail or read about them on Sun's security blog, she added.

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