WASHINGTON (CBS) -- The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is advising people to temporarily disable the Java software on their computers to avoid potential hacking attacks.
The recommendation came in an advisory issued late Thursday, following up on concerns raised by computer security experts.
Experts believe hackers have found a flaw in Java's coding that creates an opening for criminal activity and other high-tech mischief.
CNET's Topher Kessler writes:
"The malware has currently been seen attacking Windows, Linux and Unix systems, and while so far has not focused on OS X, may be able to do so given OS X is largely similar to Unix and Java is cross-platform.
Even though the exploit has not been seen in OS X, Apple has taken steps to block it by issuing an update to its built-in XProtect system to block the current version of the Java 7 runtime and require users install an as of yet unreleased version of the Java runtime.
Luckily with the latest versions of Java, users who need to keep it active can change a couple of settings to help secure their systems. Go to the Java Control Panel that is installed along with the runtime, and in the Security section uncheck the option to "Enable Java content in the browser," which will disable the browser plug-in. This will prevent the inadvertent execution of exploits that may be stumbled upon when browsing the Web, and is a recommended setting for most people to do. If you need to see a Java applet on the Web, then you can always temporarily re-enable the plug-in.
The second setting is to increase the security level of the Java runtime, which can also be done in the same Security section of the Java Control Panel. The default security level is Medium, but you can increase this to High or Very High. At the High level, Java will prompt you for approval before running any unsigned Java code, and at the Very High level all Java code will require such approval, regardless of whether or not it is signed."
Java is a widely used technical language that allows computer programmers to write a wide variety of Internet applications and other software programs that can run on just about any computer's operating system.
Oracle Corp. bought Java as part of a $7.3 billion acquisition of the software's creator, Sun Microsystems, in 2010.
Oracle, which is based in Redwood Shores, Calif., had no immediate comment late Friday.