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Java Security Warning: Disable It Now, Homeland Security Says

By Deanne Katz, Esq. | Last updated on

A Java security warning was recently issued by the U.S. government, which left many people wondering if they should uninstall or disable the software. And if so, how do you do it?

Java is a piece of software that was created by Sun Microsystems, now owned by Oracle, that is mostly used in online games and other Internet applications. If you've ever seen a small steaming coffee cup icon come up in place of an online game, that game was built with Java.

The software was incredibly popular in the 1990s but since then, competitors have eaten away at its market share. At this point, you may be able to get rid of it without even noticing.

But there's still the question, do you need to?

Java has had problems in the past with security vulnerabilities, but a new one recently discovered in Java 7, the latest version, is raising concerns.

The vulnerability makes it relatively easy for a remote attack on your computer. Hackers send a vulnerable user to a specific HTML document, and from there can execute arbitrary code on the user's system.

The bottom line is that Java's current version makes it easy to get a virus into your computer or otherwise mess with it.

It's not just a possibility; it's probably happening. Popular hacking kits already incorporate this vulnerability, according to The Next Web.

Malicious hacking is an issue for everyone, but if you store your clients' information on your computer that makes it a doubly serious risk. A hack could expose that information and put your reputation in jeopardy.

There are two ways to address the issue. If you don't use Java, the easiest way to get peace of mind is just to disable the plugin on your browser. Depending on the browser you have, the directions are slightly different:

  • For Mac users who browse via Safari, go to the Menu and select Preferences. Click the tab labeled "Security" and then uncheck "Enable Java."
  • For Chrome users, simply type "chrome://plugins/" into the URL box. Then find Java and click "disable."
  • For Firefox users, find the "Add-ons" tab or line; it may be under Tools or General, depending on your version, in the "Firefox" tab on the top left of the browser window. When the Add-ons manager tab comes up, select Plugins from the list on the left and click the "Disable" button for anything that mentions Java or Java Applet.
  • For Internet Explorer, the directions are more complicated, so check out this tutorial on PC Magazine's website.

For most lawyers, that will be enough since few legal research tools use Java. But if you find you can't live without it, you can reinstall or enable it on a secure browser. If you do, just be careful about the links you click to avoid getting a virus.

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