Microsoft Reports Over Six Million Java Attacks In Q3

Six million attacks in the third quarter of 2010 targeted just three Java vulnerabilities, Microsoft reported

Attacks on Java reached “unprecedented” levels during the third quarter of the year, a Microsoft researcher reported.

For the most part, attackers have been targeting three vulnerabilities that have all been patched, noted Holly Stewart, senior programme manager at Microsoft, in a blog post. Still, attacks on Java number better than six million and have surpassed the total number of Adobe-related attacks the company also monitored.

Forgetting To Update

“Java is ubiquitous and, as was once true with browsers and document readers like Adobe Acrobat, people don’t think to update it,” blogged Stewart. “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?”

Out of the three, the two most exploited vulnerabilities were CVE-2008-5353, a deserialisation issue that allows remote code execution through Java-enabled browsers on Windows, Mac OS X and other systems; and CVE-2009-3867, a remote code execution issue caused by improper parsing of long ‘file://URL’ arguments, according to Microsoft. The first flaw was attacked roughly 3.5 million times, while the second was hit some 2.6 million times. The third vulnerability is CVE-2010-0094, another deserialisation issue, which was attacked more than 200,000 times.

Oracle did not respond to a request for comment on the issue. However, Trend Micro Advanced Threat Researcher Jamz Yaneza said the culprit is likely to be the exploit kits used by attackers targeting low-hanging fruit.

“This is just more evidence that there is a core group of bad actors actively creating the base malware kits and incorporating them into standard modules in many types of malware,” he said. “Think of it as a superpack add-on. In the case of older exploits, not just Java but other operating systems and applications of yesteryear, these come standard in a kit. If you want the latest upgrade, that requires a certain amount of money. The bad guys don’t care of course, they’ll buy it including the 24/7 support service and upgrades – they’re using your stolen credit card anyway.”

In its final update for the year, Oracle patched a number of Java issues.

“I have a theory about why almost no one has noticed this sharp rise in attacks on Java,” blogged Stewart. “IDS/IPS [intrusion detection/prevention system] vendors, who are typically the folks that speak out first about new types of exploitation, have challenges with parsing Java code. Documents, multimedia, JavaScript – getting protection for these issues is challenging to get right. Now, think about incorporating a Java interpreter into an IPS engine? The performance impact on a network IPS could be crippling. So, the people that we expect to notice increases in exploitation might have a hard time seeing this particular spectrum of light. Call it Java-blindness.”

Still, the number of Java exploits is low when compared with other malware families like Zbot (Zeus), the Microsoft researcher added.

“Considering that these vulnerabilities all have available updates from Oracle that would prevent these attacks from being successful, this data is a reminder that, in addition to running real-time protection, it is imperative to apply all security updates for software, no matter what your flavour might be,” Stewart noted.