GEEKNOTE: First off, thanks to everyone who turned out at the Hacienda Saturday morning. I was amazed at the level of interest in saving the Hacienda.
Now to the geek stuff at hand:
The US government recommendation last week that anyone with Java running on their computer either disable it in their browser or uninstall it completely was a bit unusual. Complying with this is a major inconvenience at best and impossible at worst.
The short answer as to what happened is that it was discovered that it was possible to put Java code on a web page that would completely compromise the security of any computer that viewed it. This flaw was discovered in use, making this a so called "zero day" bug.
Fortunately, Oracle has announced that an emergency patch will be available this Tuesday (January 15th).
It is only a slight exaggeration to say that Java runs the world. It is extremely common on websites that you are like to use (eg. Facebook) and those sites won't run correctly without having Java enabled in your browser.
In my case, I can't pick up my city email AT ALL without having Java enabled in my browser.
Java doesn't just show up in computer browsers. It is pretty much everywhere. A good description of what it is and what it does can be found at: http://java.com/en/download/whatis_java.jsp
One way to protect yourself from websites that have rogue Java code installed on them is to use a blocker like NoScript ( http://noscript.net/ ). I've been using NoScript for some time now. It lets me know when a website is trying to run Java on my computer and lets me decide whether or not I want to allow the site to run the suspect code. In most cases, what NoScript finds are simply advertising scripts trying to track me, but I've had a couple of cases where clearly malicious code was blocked. NoScript is free, but they will be happy to accept a donation.
I strongly encourage all of you to install the latest Java update as soon as it becomes available on Tuesday.
As always, feel free to drop me a note or give me a call if you have any questions about your computer or the Internet.
Rob Marlowe, Senior Geek, Gulfcoast Networking, Inc.
(Rob also serves as deputy mayor of the City of New Port Richey. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not necessarily represent the position of the city.)