Millions of Java users are to be warned that they could be exposed to malware as a result of a flaw that existed in the software’s update tool.
The plug-in is installed on many PCs to let them to run small programs written in the Java programming language.
Its distributor Oracle has agreed to issue an alert on both social media and its own site following an investigation by the US’s Federal Trade Commission.
By doing so, it has avoided the risk of being fined.
However, the firm has not formally admitted to any wrongdoing.
According to the FTC’s complaint, Oracle was aware of security issues in the Java SE (standard edition) plug-in when it bought the technology’s creator Sun in 2010.
“The security issues allowed hackers to craft malware that could allow access to consumers’ usernames and passwords for financial accounts, and allow hackers to acquire other sensitive information,” the FTC said.
The FTC settled the case without imposing a fine on Oracle
The regulator alleged that Oracle had promised consumers that installing its updates would ensure their PCs would be “safe and secure”.
But it said the firm had failed to acknowledge that a risk remained.
When Oracle initially tried to address this, its update tool only removed the most recent prior version of Java, leaving earlier editions behind. It was not until August 2014 that the company finally rectified the problem.
Oracle could not plead ignorance because the FTC had obtained internal documents dated from 2011 that stated “[the] Java update mechanism is not aggressive enough or simply not working”.
According to the watchdog, Java SE is installed on more than 850 million computers.
Oracle acquired Java as part of its takeover of Sun in 2010.
Java is still used to power some web browser-based games, calculator, chat tools and other functions. However, one expert said most users should take this opportunity to trash it.
Rik Ferguson, vice president of security research at anti-malware firm Trend Micro, commented, “Java is one of the top three applications that criminals target. There are times in some businesses where they may be internal applications that require Java in the web browser, so you won’t have much option, but our recommendation for others is to remove it and stop using it.”