How much CPU time does an applet get?

One of the few legitimate concerns about hostile applets is excessive use of CPU time. It is possible on a non-preemptively multitasking system (specifically the Mac) to write an applet that uses so much CPU time in a tight loop that it effectively locks up the host system. This is not a problem on preemptively multitasking systems like Solaris and Windows NT. Even on those platforms, though, it is possible for an applet to force the user to kill their web browser, possibly losing accumulated bookmarks, email and other work.

It's also possible for an applet to use CPU time for purposes other than the apparent intent of the applet. For instance, a popular applet could launch a Chinese lottery attack on a Unix password file. A popular game applet could launch a thread in the background which tried a random assortment of keys to break a DES encrypted file. If the key was found, then a network connection could be opened to the applet server to send the decrypted key back. The more popular the applet was the faster the key would be found. The ease with which Java applets are decompiled would probably mean that any such applet would be discovered, but there really isn't a way to prevent it from running in the first place.

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Copyright 1997 Elliotte Rusty Harold
Last Modified October 18, 1997