Back in October of 2010, Apple announced they would drop support for Java. This did not spur Oracle to directly support this Unix platform as it did for other Unix operating systems. The delay this caused in Java updates allowed OS X to play a role in clickfraud schemes among other nefarious activities. Apple finally responded by producing their own updates culminating in Java 6 update 33. Since then, another change to Java 6 affects time zone changes in two different regions. It seems unlikely OS X will receive further updates for Java 6 by Apple.
On August 14th 2012, Oracle released Java 7 update 6 for Lion and Mountain Lion OS running on Apple’s Mac platform. Oracle’s direct support for OS X brings an end to blaming Apple for slow Java updates. The future of Java and its relative security is now clearly in the hands of Oracle. Within two weeks of Oracle releasing their version of Java 7 update 6 for OS X, an exploit was discovered that affected Windows, where OS X and Linux have the same vulnerability. This vulnerability affects Firefox, IE 9, and Safari 6. Oracle’s record is not sterling at offering timely Java exploit patches, and the clock is ticking.
A Java in Mac Background
Microsoft’s stated reason for making the change to ActiveX extending their browser was to improve security. This occurred as Microsoft dropped Windows Internet Name Service (WINS) in favor of DNS that offered name hierarchy, the basis for today’s certificate authority. ActiveX seemingly became a replacement strategy for WINS as their means to dominate the Internet. Instead, malefactors used ActiveX over the Internet to control Windows applications. ActiveX did not establish Windows as a dominant player on the Internet, nor did ActiveX improve security.
Android adopted Java in 2005 to establish a Java Runtime Environment (JRE). Sun open-sourced Java under the GPLv2 in November 2006. Unhappy exceptions were not permitted for mobile applications, Google developed its own Java Virtual Machine (JVM) technology, called Dalvik that avoided programming interface constraints and transformed JRE’s stack approach into Java Virtual Machine’s (JVM) use of registers.
Since then, Sun was acquired by Oracle in 2010. Apple has not offered an uninstaller for Java, and programs using Java may not heed disable checks in Apple’s Java control panel and attempt to use Java anyway. Many of these same programs also fail to notice Oracle’s control panel for Java 7 update 6, nor accept the location of the Java 7 environment as being valid. These Java issues will take some time to be resolved, but Apple has made their intentions clear by no longer automatically installing Java and not supporting Java 7.
Apple App Rules
The Mac App Store Review Guidelines rule number 2.24 states that:
“Apps that use deprecated or optionally installed technologies (e.g., Java, Rosetta) will be rejected”
By controlling how applications are updated, what meta-information and shortcuts are permitted, prohibiting auto-launching without user consent, and prohibiting the downloading of other applications or modifications – all these has the goal of improving security. Enforcing these security assurances would be less practical and more open to exploitation by malefactors if Java were permitted.
In addition, Apple has a history of shunning cross-platform libraries that pass execution with data structures over the stack they consider inherently less optimal. Apple opted to use Objective-C, which exchanges messages and not execution. This language was developed in the early 1980s for the NeXT multi-media computer that became the platform for the first browsers then ported as Netscape and Internet Explorer.
Will we eventually say goodbye to Java-based apps like Cyberduck and to Java itself on OS X versions that came before Lion?
What does this mean for OS X users?
First, back up your system before making any changes to Java. These changes may break non-Apple applications, particularly those that rely on Java to run. While Java is not used by OS X, be aware if something goes wrong with one of the non-Apple applications or a new vulnerability is actively being exploited. There is no install/uninstall utility friendly to both Apple and Oracle environments to properly install or remove existing Java virtual runtimes.
Users may not have installed the Java provided by Apple. Not installing this will cause OS X to prompt the user to install Java when a application attempts to use Java. Once Apple’s Java is installed followed by the installation of Oracle’s, under System Preferences normally located on the Dock, the Java cache should be cleared by clicking on Java icon located under the Other section.
This action opens the Java Control Panel. In the Java Control Panel, click on Settings under Temporary Internet Files and click on the Delete Files button in the Temporary Internet Files window. This will open the Delete Files and Applications window, click OK to confirm.
You may find that Chrome, which is a 32-bit browser, does not support the 64-bit Java 7.
If you want to remove Java 7, Oracle has provided removal instructions in this page. Their instructions describe restoring a symbolic link to regain the function of the /Library/Internet Plugins/JavaAppletPlugin.plugin after placing it in the trash as the method for removing Oracle’s version when restoring Apple’s.
Uninstalling Java 6 provided by Apple without installing Oracle’s Java 7 can be done manually by removing “JavaVM.framework,” located at /System/Library/Frameworks/. Additionally, this will also require removing links at the following directories pointing to the runtimes in the framework:
Deprecating Adobe Flash and Java by Apple is aimed at ridding OS X and iOS of problematic languages causing the majority of vulnerabilities and problems. A question comes to mind: will HTML5 prove to be safer when everyone still wants to see the dancing fruit?
Coming Soon: The TrendLabs Security Intelligence Blog will be the new Malware Blog