Java is a security risk and is now of very little use

What is Java?

Java logo #1Java is a programming language that is often installed (free of charge) onto computers. It works via an “add-in” to the web browser. A browser is the program you use to view and interact with websites (eg Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, Opera or Safari). Java is used to run special bits of code on websites (such as animations) that could not be programmed in the main browser programming language (known as “html” – hypertext markup language). Note that “Java” has nothing at all to do with another programming language called “Javascript”. You have no need to worry about Javascript. Also, note that the security problems with Java are not actually inherent in Java but are caused by the “browser plug-in” that allows Java to talk to the web page.

The Java browser plug-in has often been exploited to install malware onto computers. That goes a long way to explain the regular notifications in the bottom of your screen that a new version of Java is available. The new version will be amendments to stop recently-discovered exploits from working.

Why Remove it Now?

As it has become more apparent that Java has big security issues, more and more web designers have moved away from using it to deliver their “fancy” content to your browser. Adobe Flash is now a much preferred languaging program. I have recently seen figures that suggest that Java is now installed on less than 0.2% of all websites.

What will happen if I remove it?

Java logo #2Probably nothing at all. The worst thing that is likely to happen is that a part of a web page that is trying to deliver you some fancy content won’t be able to. You may well see a white box where the content would be displayed if you had Java installed (see the illustration below). There may also be a reference to a “missing plug-in” or something similar.

How do I remove it?

In Windows, go to the Control Panel and choose the “Programs and Features” option. This option was called “Add or Remove Programs” on versions of Windows before Vista. Highlight the Java entry (or, indeed, “entries”. Java has been infamous for installing loads of new versions without cleaning up after itself by removing the redundant versions). After highlighting the entry, click on the “uninstall” option and follow the on-screen instructions.

On a Mac, open Finder, open the “Applications” folder, right-click on JavaAppletPlugin.plugin and left-click on the “Move to Trash” option.

Also, disable any Java plug-ins in your browser.


How do I check to see if Java is (still) installed?

Go to www.java.com and click on the link that says “Do I have Java?” Then click on the “Agree and Continue” button. If Java has gone then you will see a more-or-less blank box (as in the illustration below).

Java Not Present Screen

The grey box with “this plug-in is not supported” indicates that Java is not installed. You would probably see a similar box on any other site that tried to display Java content when Java was not installed.

What if I need it back?

There’s just a very tiny chance that something on a website that is important to you will cease to function if you remove Java. In that case, I would suggest installing a browser that you don’t normally use (“Opera” is a good one) and install Java on that browser. Then, only use that browser for the site that includes the Java programming. Be very careful that you only install Java from www.java.com. There are fake “Java updaters” out there that will install malware onto your computer if you give them half a chance.

Why Now?

Nothing spectacular has just happened, or is about to happen. Things have just moved on and now is as good a time as any to take action. It’s probably worth removing rather than just ignoring it as the popup boxes advising upgrading it are a nuisance and every time you upgrade it there is a chance of falling for the disgraceful trick built into the upgrade process that causes you to install the awful “Ask Toolbar”. See this link for more on this practice.

If you’d rather not remove it yourself and are a computer support client of mine then I could remove it on my next visit. Alternatively, I’d be happy to remove it for you via a Teamviewer remote control session.

A web browser is a program on your own computer that connects to other computers on the worldwide web, sends and receives data, and deals with that data for you (such as presenting it on screen, saving it, printing it).

There are several different browsers, made by different companies, that do the same job. The most prominent (with links) are:

Internet Explorer logoInternet Explorer version 9 (not for XP)
Internet Explorer version 8 (for XP)

 

Firefox logoMozilla Firefox

 

Chrome logoGoogle Chrome

 

Safari logoSafari

 

There is also the AOL browser that is only used by AOL subscribers. AOL subscribers can also use any of the other browsers.

So what’s the difference between them? Not a great deal. Pushed to name the best feature of each, I would suggest:

Internet Explorer – automatic security updates via Microsoft update (that also keeps your Windows updated)
Mozilla Firefox – huge range of add-ons (plugins)
Chrome – fast
Safari – built by Apple, so has the look and feel of a Mac
AOL – er…

Unlike security software (antivirus, other antimalware, and firewalls) you can have as many browsers on your computers as you wish. They do not conflict with each other.

Plugins

Browsers originally dealt with text and images but they can now also handle a variety of types of multimedia (eg video). A lot of this functionality is provided by the addition of specialised programs called “plugins” and “add-ons”.

For instance, you are probably familiar with Adobe Flash Player. This is an extra program, installed separately from your browser, that gives you the ability to watch videos etc directly from your browser. If we didn’t have what Flash Player does then we would probably need to download our video to our computer and then open up a different program to view it. Flash Player allows us to view it within our browser window and also allows us to “stream” the content. “Streaming” means that we are watching the video as it is delivered to our browser, rather than having to save it all first before starting to watch it.

There are many, many other plugins that we can add directly into our browser. I use one on Firefox called Adblock Plus. This does a very good job of removing ads from most websites. It’s available for Firefox and Chrome.

Updates

If your browser tells you that there is an update available and suggests that you download it then I would recommend doing so. This is because at least part of the update is likely to involve improved security for your browser. Remember that the browser’s job is to communicate with other computers, passing data to and from your own machine. This is precisely the area where people with bad intent will try to exploit weaknesses. Therefore, it is important that as soon as a flaw in your browser is discovered and rectified, you should incorporate that rectification as soon as possible by updating your browser.

As far as updating plugins is concerned, you probably often see nagging screens advising you to update Adobe Flash Player. Annoying though they are, I would suggest complying as the update may very well be to do with security. Likewise, if you see nagging messages about updating Java then I would comply for the same reason (Java is powerful programming installed on your own computer that websites call upon to add bells and whistles to their web pages).

Default Browser

If you have more than one browser installed then opening one up may cause a message to be displayed along the lines of “SuperDuper browser is not currently your default browser. Make it the default?”

The “default browser” is the one that loads up when a browser is called for, but none has been specified. Suppose, for instance, that you have a web page saved on your computer. This will probably be an “html” file. If you double-click on that file then your operating system looks for the “default program” (in this case a “default browser”) to open that file.

Obviously, there is only one “default browser” and the message above (when you start the SuperDuper browser) is really no more than your SuperDuper browser screaming “me, me, me” at you. It thinks it’s the most important browser in the universe and that it’s doing you a favour by suggesting that it should be the default browser instead of the one that you currently have as the default.

You can always change your default browser by opening up the one that you wish to be the default. If it doesn’t automatically scream at you to make it the default then look for the option to change the settings. There is bound to be a setting somewhere to make that browser the default.

© 2011-2017 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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