Taking a leaf out of Microsoft's book, Sun Microsystems is changing the way it patches desktop Java.
Sun Microsystems said it will start giving advance notification of its Java SE (Standard Edition) security updates and that it will also scrap its controversial practice of staggering the release of Java patches. Instead, it will release updates for all supported Java SE platforms simultaneously.
Sun Spokeswoman Jacki Decoster said that the changes were designed to make it easier for enterprises to patch all of their Java systems at once.
But Sun's new system also happens to remedy what some had called a serious security risk.
In July, eEye Digital Security chief technology officer Marc Maiffret blasted Sun for waiting months between the release of some versions of its desktop Java. In January, eEye had discovered a serious bug in the Java Network Launching Protocol, which is used to run Java programs over the web. But Sun gave the patch to developers several weeks before it pushed it out to Java users at large.
Although this gave attackers a chance to reverse-engineer Sun's fixes and use them against some of Sun Microsystems's 800 million desktop users, surprisingly, Java has only rarely been targeted, said Andrew Storms, director of security operations with nCircle Network Security.
"It's still the number-one platform for IT enterprise development in-house. But we haven't seen a whole lot of attacks against it."
Besides staggering developer and end-user releases, Sun would also wait before releasing updates to users of older versions of Java. Previously, it was standard practice for Sun to fix older versions of Java, such as J2SE 5.0 and J2SE 1.4, weeks or even months after it had patched the latest Java SE 6 software.
That will all change under the new system, which will offer simultaneous developer and end-user releases for these three versions of Java. However, users of J2SE 1.3 will have to wait until next year before their software is updated at the same time as the rest of the platform, Decoster said.
She could not say whether Sun planned to offer this type of synchronised release for its embedded or server-based Java platforms, Java ME (Micro Edition) and Java EE (Enterprise Edition).
Sun's advance notifications will not be released according to a pre-set schedule, as is the case with Microsoft and Oracle, but they will come out within a week of the actual security patches, Decoster said. Customers can receive the advance notifications via email or read about them on Sun's security blog, she added.