Security

Adobe Scrambles to Fix PDF Flaw

Adobe is rushing to develop a patch for a vulnerability in Acrobat Reader revealed at the Black Hat security conference. The update--expected the week of August 16--will be the third time this year that Adobe has been forced to fix flaws outside of its regularly scheduled quarterly update pattern.

PDF files are increasingly being used as an attack vector--forcing Adobe to be more diligent about securing Adobe Reader.
Adobe published a security bulletin announcing the upcoming update for Adobe Reader 9.3.3 for Windows, Mac OS X, and UNIX, and Adobe Acrobat for Windows and Mac, as well as Reader and Acrobat version 8.2.3 for the same platforms to resolve a number of security issues. Adobe noted "that these updates represent an out-of-band release. Adobe is currently scheduled to release the next quarterly security update for Adobe Reader and Acrobat on October 12, 2010."

Microsoft also released an out-of-band patch for the Windows shortcut vulnerability--only a week ahead of the planned Patch Tuesday updates. The rapid turnaround by Adobe from vulnerability discovery to patch is commendable, but the rise in zero-day exploits forcing both Adobe and Microsoft to frequently provide updates outside of the normal patch release cycle threatens to negate the benefits of having a regularly scheduled patch release system.

The issue being addressed by Adobe is a vulnerability in Adobe Reader which was unveiled at Black Hat by security researcher Charlie Miller. Miller has made a name for himself by repeatedly winning the Pwn2Own contest at the CanSec West security conference.

A Secunia advisory related to the Adobe flaw explains "The vulnerability is caused due to an integer overflow error in CoolType.dll when parsing the "maxCompositePoints" field value in the "maxp" (Maximum Profile) table of a TrueType font. This can be exploited to corrupt memory via a PDF file containing a specially crafted TrueType font."

Summed up in plain English that IT admins and users who are not developers can understand, Secunia adds "Successful exploitation may allow execution of arbitrary code." Bottom line: an attacker could exploit the Adobe Reader flaw to take control of a vulnerable system and install or execute other malicious software.

Interestingly, it is a flaw in the way fonts are rendered in PDF documents that allows the JailbreakMe Web site to circumvent iPhone defenses and alter the core functionality of the smartphone OS. However, according to Miller the flaws are unrelated to one another. Thankfully, Apple is hard at work updating iOS to address that issue.

IT admins concerned with being exposed to potential exploit of this vulnerability pending the update from Adobe can always look into alternative PDF readers such as FoxIt Reader and Nuance PDF Reader.

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