Securing Java

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Mobile Code and Security: Why Java Security Is Important
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Section 8 -- Where to Find More Information on Java

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Java is growing rapidly, and keeping up with it requires as much energy as looking after a herd of two-year-olds (believe us, we know). Keeping up with the edge is just as important for security purposes as it is for any other. Here are some resources that can help make a time investment worth it.

Java on the Web

An excellent place to start learning about Java is the Web itself. The first URL to check is JavaSoft ( Also useful are and JavaWorld. MindQ sells a set of excellent CD-ROMs that provides a multimedia introduction to programming Java applets and applications (among other issues). See its Web page for details at (MindQ produced the authors' Java Security CD-ROM as well.) To discover some of the many other Java resources on the Net, search for Java at Yahoo! or on AltaVista. Also see two collections of security-related Java links put together by the authors at and at The references section of this book includes a complete listing of all URLs cited throughout the book.

Java Books

The number of books on Java is growing almost as fast as the Web itself, and the Java shelf is groaning under their combined weight. For a comprehensive list, see We have had a chance to use a few of them as Java coders. Here are four, with a brief review for each:

Core Java Volume 1-Fundamentals [Horstmann and Cornell, 1997]. This is a good book; big, but definitely useful. In fact, Core Java got so big that it split into two volumes for the JDK 1.1 edition. It is full of comparisons to C++ and Visual Basic, including useful pictures. The authors provide implementations for other classes that are not in the Java libraries, but are commonly used.

Inside the Java Virtual Machine Specification [Venners, 1997]. For anyone interested in the inner workings of Java's Virtual Machine, this is the book to get. As we'll see, Java applet security boils down to what byte code is allowed to do and how its behavior can be constrained. That means that learning about how the VM does its thing is a useful exercise for those people concerned about security.

Java in a Nutshell, second edition [Flanagan, 1997]. This book remains everyone's favorite (well, every developer anyway), probably because it is so useful. O'Reilly is famous for its API books and, true to form, this book provides an extensive API for the packages provided by Java. This makes it excellent for a quick desk-side reference. There are some examples, but if you learn best by examples, you should consider Java Examples in a Nutshell [Flanagan, 1997]. Both books are equally useful for beginners and more advanced Java programmers.

Java Network Programming [Hughes, Shoffner, and Winslow, 1997]. One of the best reasons to use Java as a development platform is to take advantage of its built-in networking ability. This excellent book is filled with hands-on examples that are included on a CD-ROM. Of particular interest to security buffs, a number of cryptography algorithms are presented. Note that there is an O'Reilly book of the same title (this one is from Manning); however, this is the one to get.

Java Security Resources

We're glad to say the amount of information available on Java security is also growing. There are both a number of books available and a large number of Web sites. On the Web, we provide the most comprehensive and up-to-date hotlist-the Java Security Hotlist-at The hotlist, which has over 100 links divided into 9 categories, has been reproduced as Appendix B, "The Java Security Hotlist." Of course URLs are notoriously dynamic, and Java security is a fast-moving field. For the latest version of the hotlist, see the Web site.

The Secure Internet Programming Lab at Princeton also maintains a site with information on security alerts and ongoing Java Security research at

Java Security Books

For at least a year, the first edition of this book, Java Security: Hostile Applets, Holes, & Antidotes, was the only available book on Java security. Since that time, a number of other books have come out that address the topic. Of course, we are biased about which one is best, but we thought you might appreciate our opinions about the others anyway: Java Security: Hostile Applets, Holes, & Antidotes [McGraw and Felten, 1996]. The first book on Java security. This book was intended to educate Web users about the risks of Java security. It includes a discussion of the base Java security model and the original Java security holes. We're glad we wrote it.

Java Network Security [Macgregor, et al., 1998]. This book appeared in 1998 and includes information on JDK 1.1, but nothing on Java 2. The book has a number of technical errors and unintentionally misleading claims about security as well. If you want a copy of everything ever written on Java security, get a copy; otherwise this one is skippable.

Java Security [Oaks, 1998]. O'Reilly is well known for its developer-oriented books. This book fits the bill, as it provides both an API reference guide and a number of code samples. It is almost up to date (the switch to the doPrivileged() API discussed in Chapter 3 is not covered by Oaks) and carefully details Java 2 functionality. One caveat: Oaks is an employee of Sun Microsystems and certainly toes the party line. The discussion of security risks and implications reflects this fact. Also missing is any treatment of Java security holes. Nevertheless, if you are a developer who wants to learn about the APIs and you don't care too much about the bigger picture, this book is for you.

The Web Security Sourcebook [Rubin, Geer, and Ranum, 1997]. Although this is not a Java security book per se, many of the lessons this book teaches are entirely relevant to people interested in Java security. This is a practical, hands-on book that covers Web server security, mobile code, CGI, and more, written by security experts of the highest caliber. E-Commerce Security [Ghosh, 1998]. Java is often put to use in e-commerce systems, and of course, e-commerce systems must take security very seriously. This book provides essential data for securing your e-commerce system. It discusses common errors, real attack targets, and solutions.

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Copyright ©1999 Gary McGraw and Edward Felten.
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Published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.