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Adobe Issues Critical PDF Reader Patch

Adobe Systems Inc. had its own Patch Tuesday yesterday when it issued a critical security fix for an Adobe Reader 9 bug that first got broad attention in late February.

Adobe's patch bulletin describes the Adobe Reader 9 bug as remotely exploitable by hackers. "This vulnerability would cause the application to crash and could potentially allow an attacker to take control of the affected system," the bulletin states.

Security officials have been anticipating Adobe's patch, which actually arrived a day early. The software company had originally announced that it would issue a fix for the zero-day vulnerability on Wednesday, March 11. Meanwhile, Microsoft released its monthly security bulletin as scheduled.

"I joked just this morning that all I needed to ruin my day was for Adobe to release their patch," said Andrew Storms, director of security for nCircle, in a late Tuesday interview.

It wasn't just the timing that bummed out Storms.

"Throughout this entire process, Adobe has been uncommunicative," he said. "Even with the onslaught of critical press and jabs from the security community, Adobe was late to acknowledge the vulnerability."

Storms added that Adobe was even slower in releasing remediation steps. As a result, "most security teams have been holding their breath and sitting with white knuckles over the last few weeks while the bug received more attention," he said.

Another security expert, Wolfgang Kandek, Qualys' chief technology officer, said Adobe probably should have moved quicker since it was notified of the problem in January.

"Adobe Reader is widely installed software package, and I would expect that most PCs have a copy of it installed," Kandek said. "Two months seems to be a rather long time to address the issue and it makes me wonder whether Adobe has a setup to react to security flaws in an out-of-band manner, rather than through normal product cycles."

Kandek had earlier suggested disabling JavaScript in PDF (Portable Document Format) and other Adobe files as a workaround for the vulnerability.

"Given that JavaScript in Adobe Acrobat has had its own share of vulnerabilities in the past, it seemed reasonable to turn it off by default," he said. Kandek has been running Adobe Reader without JavaScript for months without any "adverse effects."

Security experts are recommending that Windows users apply the Adobe Reader 9 patch. The flaw could be exploited on systems running Windows XP SP3, according to Shadowserver, which is a volunteer-led Internet security research group.

About the Author

Jabulani Leffall is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in the Financial Times of London, Investor's Business Daily, The Economist and CFO Magazine, among others.

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