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Java Jibe

I'm called on to fix things in various worlds, some greasy and some digital. I was greasy in my son's broken Toyota—a power steering hose problem—when my cell phone rang. I dug it out of my pocket with the two cleanest fingers. The call was from an old friend, Brad. It began with some four letter angst and "...update Java, blankety-blank and all of a sudden it's downloading blankey-blank McAfee Free Scan blankey-blank and I don't want that blankey blank stupid blankey-blank - THING! How do I get rid of it and why did it do that?"

We determined that he would bring the laptop to the coffee shop the next morning. Because I'd laid my hands on his computer twice in the past it partly belonged to me; thus the problems were mine. Such is the life of a (somewhat willing) "fixer".

So, what's all this we've been hearing for a while about Java? Not coffee?

In computing of all sorts many billions of devices use the language ‘Java’. It is a long-developed computer language that pretty much shook up the developer world starting back in the last century. Released in 1995 as a core component of a Sun Microsystems' platform, it was branded "cool" by a lot of hype when the geek world was ripe and ready for a new language that seemed like it was also internet-centric. Time passed.

Through the years there's been plenty of rancor among competing humans about Java. Then Microsoft got Sun Microsystems really angry by creating their own iteration of Java.

On April 2, 2010, the person instrumental in creating Java, James Gosling, (no relation to any goose) left Sun Microsystems which had recently been acquired by the Oracle Corporation. Oracle produces database uses. Why did Gosling leave? He cited reductions in pay, status, and decision-making ability, change of role, and ethical challenges. He has since taken a very critical stance towards Oracle.

Remember back when guys (mostly it was guys) wore white shirts and pony tails, and referred to an odd thing called Unix (not eunuchs) in computing and didn't confer with ordinary people, like me, and could smell Windows operating system on your person which made them even more distant, instantly? Remember? NO? Well, that's back when Gosling was starting to develop his computer language. And if you don't remember and all you want to do with your device is enjoy yourself, why in the world do you have to deal with this Java thing?

See? People are people and you are left embroiled because you just want your browser to function without complaining to you about this, that or the other thing.

You may love java-the-coffee, but this thing with Java, ugh!

Well, it seems Oracle may have not paid enough attention to their newly acquired language, perhaps wished that it had not come along with their Sun Microsystems purchase and they may have ignored it just a bit. And hackers, who never sleep, were developing security breaches with the use of Java, in those billions of devices around the world.

Finally, things got bad enough with compromised computers and other tools that the Department of Homeland Security advised people to disable Java in Web browsers, presumably until Oracle was able to correct the problem.

Instructions from Oracle on how to disable Java can be found at:
(Note, there is "Javascript" that runs when you visit this site but that isn't "Java". Both are keywords that you may run across in using your web browser, asking your permission to use a language, stuff like that.)

Some security bloggers have warned that disabling Java can be complicated. Such a pain. Go have a cup of coffee and think about it.

OK. At coffee the next morning Brad lugged his laptop in with a growl on his face. I told him that I'd show him how to un-install the ill-installed McAfee culprit. We groused about how there are too many free offerings out there that come along with PRE-selected choices that you don't want, selections hidden in tiny text font in one of many splash screens that pop happily by. Brad said that he'd never remember how to uninstall a program in the future and I realized that I owned his laptop more now than ever before.

For my part I'm going ahead with the Java security updates that are showing up periodically. I use stuff that uses Java. If you choose to rid yourself of Java, you may find some error messages popping up that warn you that things may not work right without it. What might you miss? Chances are nothing that life depends on. For example Apple blocked Java functionality in its desktop operations. Mountain View-based Mozilla said in a blog post that it has begun blocking Java on its Firefox browser unless someone clicks on a feature to activate the software. The click-to-play feature "allows users to enable the Java plugin on a per-site basis if they absolutely sure they want it."

But make no mistake, reports indicate this vulnerability is being actively exploited by cybercrooks who could use the flaw to lure computer users to virus-infected websites.

Some crooks already are selling "exploit kits" to other crooks to take advantage of Java's problems. One common scam that could be exploited with the Java flaw is to shut down a user's computer with a ransom-ware virus and then demand money to unlock the machine. Another is to send a user an official-looking message saying their computer is infected and then dupe them into paying for a phony anti-virus product that doesn't work.

Good luck and I'll keep my eyes peeled on Java for developments in the future, since I use it. I have to keep abreast for old guys who sit around at coffee shops and grouse about their mysterious computing devices that their lives seem to depend on - now.


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