Do you need Java?

Many of you heard about the warning to disable Java or uninstall it. This week I’ll try to sort out the situation for you.

What is Java, and why would I ever need it?

Java is a programming language and an enabling technology. Business applications, games, and display certain websites depend upon it. Something like 850 million computers (Windows, Mac, and Linux) and billions of other devices (smart phones, TV’s, Kindles and more) have Java on them. It works so well that most people don’t know they even have it until it stops working. A two-minute video explaining this is available here: http://medianetwork.oracle.com/video/player/1218969104001.

What is all the fuss about?

The Department of Homeland Security recommended that people uninstall or disable Java for safety reasons. With Java installed and enabled, hackers could use a flaw in the program to install malicious software on computers. The bulletin, since updated, is here: http://www.kb.cert.org/vuls/id/625617.

What should I do?

If you are worried about your computer being hacked, and you know or you think that you don’t need Java, go to Control Panel and uninstall all versions. If you later find that you need it for something you want to do, you can easily install it again.

But, since the DHS warning, Oracle, the makers of Java, have issued an update. This update makes it easier to enable and disable Java, either entirely or on a browser-specific basis. Whether or not you plan to disable Java, if you’re going to have it on your computer you should install the latest version. And you should uninstall all previous versions.

To get the new version, visit http://java.com and click on the big red button that says Free Java Download. When prompted, save the file. After the download is complete, close your browser! Then go to wherever you downloaded it and run the installer. It will take a few minutes. Decline all offers of toolbars and Google Chrome and other so-called security products, just install Java.

Now, you might want to take the DHS recommendation and disable Java in the browser. If so, go Control Panel | Programs | Java. Open it up and go to the Security tab. At the top you'll see where you can enable and disable. Be sure so click OK to save your changes.

That procedure will enable/disable Java in all browsers. If you want to enable/disable it in a specific browser, follow the instructions on this page: http://www.java.com/en/download/help/disable_browser.xml.

Anything else?

Yes. When Java asks you to let it update, LET IT UPDATE! Those are security updates, and they are there to protect us. Also, make sure you have uninstalled every version of Java prior to the most recent one. Here’s why: http://www.java.com/en/download/faq/remove_olderversions.xml. And here’s how: http://www.java.com/en/download/uninstall.jsp.

Please also note that this exploit is not limited to dodgy websites. The code is such that a legitimate site can be infected just as easily, and visitors to an otherwise reputable site can be infected without even knowing it. Mac users need to beware as well, as this exploit can apparently affect OS X systems. This article: http://www.macrumors.com/2013/01/11/apple-blocks-java-7-on-os-x-to-address-widespread-security-threat/ claims that Apple is taking steps to disable Java on OS X systems. (Thanks and a tip of the hat to Technology/Life Integrator Mark Call for that.)

Finally, this does not apply to JavaScript, which is confusingly named, but completely and totally different.

Do you need help with your computer? I'm here to help you and your home or business computer get along!

Cate Eales runs Computer Care Kelowna (http://computercarekelowna.com/) a mobile service helping home users and businesses get along with their computers. To arrange an appointment phone her at 250-764-7043. Cate also welcomes your comments and suggestions. Send email to [email protected].

You can read previous columns here: http://rlis.com/column.htm . If you'd like to subscribe to this column by email, please visit this link: http://www.feedblitz.com/f/f.fbz?Sub=20618 . It's easy, and free. If you'd prefer the RSS Feed, click here: http://rlis.com/rlis.xml.

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About the Author

The Technology Shaman, Cate Eales, has been helping people make online computing safe, accessible, and fun for over 30 years.

Cate lives in Kelowna with her husband, Eric. She owns and operates Computer Care Kelowna, a mobile computer business providing on-site service for home and small business customers.

Cate is here to help you and your home or business computer get along.

E-mail Cate at [email protected] with comments, suggestions, or questions.

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