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Adobe spanked for insecure Reader app

Download, install, then update

Adobe Systems has been taken to task for offering outdated software on its downloads page that contains dozens of security vulnerabilities, several of which are already being exploited in the wild to install harmful malware on users' machines.

Visitors who obtain Adobe Reader from the company's official downloads page will find that it installs version 9.1 of the program on their computers, even though the most recent version was 9.1.2 at time of writing. That could put users at considerable peril given the number of vulnerabilities fixed in the two iterations that have come since 9.1, complains Secunia, a firm that tracks security flaws.

"Remember: The criminals only need one unpatched program to compromise your machine," the company's Mikkel Winther wrote here. "Yet, as of today, Adobe still serves version 9.1.0 on their official download location at Adobe.com, leaving the user with the task of understanding that their PC has been rendered vulnerable to attacks (from opening an innocent looking PDF attachment to surf-by-attacks when browsing websites)."

Adobe defended the practice, saying the page merely offers the Adobe Reader installer, which once running, will notify users of any pending updates.

"Adobe Updater will check for updates immediately on first launch," the company said in a statement. "Thereafter, Adobe Updater checks for updates every seven days from that first launch."

The statement went on to say that users can manually manage Reader updates if they wish.

Based on our experience with Reader, Adobe is correct when it says the installer immediately prompts users of older versions to update. But that doesn't mean that its practice is safe. With the vast majority of the computing world using the software, it's not hard to imagine some percentage of them opening a booby-trapped PDF on first use. Besides, part of making your product secure is to minimize the hassle of updating to the latest version, something that's clearly not happening here.

The public dressing down from Secunia came the same day a hacker published exploit code on Milw0rm that can escalate user privileges on machines running Reader.

"As soon as the Adobe/NOS service is started or triggered (administrator logs in, reboot possibly, etc), the attacker's specified executable could be run with elevated privileges allowing them to take full control of the target," Jeremy Brown, the author of the exploit, wrote in an email to The Register.

We'd expect this vulnerability, like most others affecting Reader, to be fixed in time. But if you've recently installed the program, we'd recommend you double check your installation to make sure you've got the latest version. ®

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