It's time to rewrite Java from scratch, security expert says

Recurring security flaws result in a succession of threats and patches, and it may be too late to fix the existing code

If the most recent security flaw in Java is a sign of anything, it's that the time has come for Oracle to rewrite the programming language.

That's the view of Bogdan Botezatu, a senior e-threat analyst with Bitdefender, a Romanian-based maker of antivirus software, who estimates that as many as 100 million PCs are vulnerable to hacker attack because of the latest Java defect discovered this week.

According to Botezatu, Oracle has lost control of Java's code, which is why serious security vulnerabilities continue to emerge in the software.

"Oracle needs to take some core components of Java and write them from scratch," he said in an interview.

The problem with mature products like Java and those made by Adobe is that so many hands have touched them over a long period of time. "These products have become so large and have been developed by so many programmers that the makers have most probably lost control over what's in the product," Botezatu said.

Fighting flaws

The results of Oracle's recent efforts to patch vulnerabilities in Java supports the Romanian security expert's analysis.

For example, Oracle patched three security vulnerabilities in August 2012 with a new release of Java, version 7 rev. 7. Within hours of the release of that fix, Polish security researcher Adam Gowdiak, founder and CEO of Security Explorations, found a vulnerability created by the update. Some security experts say Java has outlived its role and its functions are handled by other technologies.

The latest zero-day vulnerability found in the programming language can also be traced to inept patching pushed in an October 2012 security update. That update was incomplete and opened the door to the vulnerability discovered this week, according to Gowdiak.

"Now is a good time to rewrite some core components from scratch and insure that they're bug-free, rather than patching the application from one version to another," Botezatu said.

Botezatu acknowledges, however, that isn't likely to happen. "Oracle isn't open to making major changes because they could break applications already in the market," he added.

The problem Oracle faces with Java development is one faced by all software makers: How to improve a program without destroying its compatibility with previous versions.

"Look at Windows Vista and how it failed to become adopted because some customers' applications didn't work from XP to Vista," Botezatu explained.

Nevertheless, some signs indicate Oracle is trying to address some of the issues raised by Botezatu. On Friday, the company announced that, starting with the release of Java 8 in September, new releases will be rolled out on a two-year schedule.

As for the current security concerns, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security recommends shutting off Java in your browser, which can be done by following these instructions from Oracle.

This story, "It's time to rewrite Java from scratch, security expert says" was originally published by PCWorld.

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