Security Experts:

Unpatched Java Versions Remain Widely Used: Report

Java exploits have become popular additions to many crimeware kits for good reason. According to Websense, close to 94 percent of endpoints running Oracle Java are vulnerable to at least one Java exploit.

The statistic is based on Websense's Advanced Classification Engine (ACE) and ThreatSeeker Network, which detected and analyzed the Java versions being used across tens of millions of endpoints. According to their findings, just roughly five percent of Java users are running the latest Java Runtime Environment, version 1.7.17. Many of the versions being used are months or years out-of-date.

"Patch management can be a complicated process for an organization, especially those with remote workers," said Charles Renert, vice president of Websense Security Labs. "There are a number of factors at play: a mobile workforce is hard to patch; Java has a cross-platform footprint; and Java updates independently from the vulnerable apps, such as browsers, that use it."

Java security vulnerabilities have become a source of consternation for users and a boon for hackers. A common tool for distributing Java threats are exploit kits like Cool, Blackhole and RedKit. The Cool kit for example contains exploits for CVE-2013-1493, CVE-2013-0431, CVE-2012-5076 and CVE-2012-0507. Blackhole 2.0 has been spotted exploiting CVE-2012-4681, CVE-2012-0507 and CVE-2012-1723.

Crimeware kits packed with exploits can go for as little as $200 on the black market, said Renert, adding that the owner of the Blackhole and Cool kits recently announced the creation of a $100,000 budget to purchase browser and browser plug-in vulnerabilities to be used exclusively in those kits.

"In the Blackhole control panels we have cracked into, they show a sizable disparity in Java exploit success versus other exploit types," Renert said. "While the more successful and highly managed exploit kits like Cool and Blackhole retire older exploits and replace with newer ones, today’s Websense Security Labs research illustrates how lesser exploit kits can keep a package of old exploits on hand and still be successful a lot of the time."

More than 75 percent of the Java versions detected are at least six months old, with nearly two-thirds being more than a year out of date and half older than two years. The most widely detected version was v1.6_16.

"Controls like patch management cannot eliminate risk exposure; they can only reduce risk to what you already know," Renert said. "Given the increasing frequency, severity and sophistication of the latest threats, the risk gap from unknown attacks across these kinds of vectors is on the rise. Rather than looking to update a single object or signature at a single point in time, companies must review the entire threat lifecycle and examine multiple opportunities to disrupt attacks."