Microsoft warns of spike in Java attacks

Microsoft researchers discovered a surge in attacks against Java that has gone undetected thanks to "Java-blindness."

In the course of researching and preparing volume 9 of the Security Intelligence Report, Microsoft analysts discovered an interesting trend. According to Microsoft's findings, attacks against Java have recently surged to unprecedented levels -- dwarfing attacks against Adobe PDFs.

Microsoft is accustomed to being a prime target for malware attacks, and Adobe has been hogging center stage for a while as well. But, a post on the Microsoft Malware Protection Center (MMPC) blog notes, "by the beginning of this year, the number of Java exploits (and by that I mean attacks on vulnerable Java code, not attacks using JavaScript) had well surpassed the total number of Adobe-related exploits we monitored."

Attacks on Java make sense for precisely the same reason that attacks on Adobe make sense. A malware developer that has to choose which operating system platform to attack will choose Microsoft because it offers significantly more potential targets. But, as Microsoft has developed more secure applications, and improved security controls, attackers have discovered that third-party cross-platform technologies are often a weak spot in the security armor.

Microsoft's Holly Stewart explains in the MMPC blog, "Java is ubiquitous, and, as was once true with browsers and document readers like Adobe Acrobat, people don't think to update it. On top of that, Java is a technology that runs in the background to make more visible components work. How do you know if you have Java installed or if it's running?"

Stewart also raises the question of why this surge in Java attacks seems to have flown under the radar. She dubs the phenomenon "Java-blindness". Essentially, Stewart theorizes that the IPS (Intrusion Prevention System) products that we expect to detect and identify new threats are blind to Java because the performance impact of interpreting Java in real-time is too great.

While the number of attacks against Java spiked, the attacks focused primarily on three Java vulnerabilities. More importantly, all three Java flaws already had patches available. Java just kind of runs silently doing its thing, though, so--while users and IT admins focus on Microsoft's monthly Patch Tuesday updates, or Adobe's quarterly security patches--Java is sort of "out of sight, out of mind" and vulnerabilities may go unpatched.

In the grand scheme of things, the attacks on Java are a drop in the bucket. The surge in Java attacks may be significant and unprecedented, but Java is still a relative blip on the radar. That said, Microsoft's findings highlight an alarming trend, and should provide incentive for users and IT admins to be more diligent about identifying and patching vulnerabilities in third-party apps that could expose systems to attack.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags online securityspamantispamMicrosoftvirusessecurityphishingintelmalware

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Tony Bradley

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?