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Adobe: critical Acrobat flaw fix 4 weeks away

Batten down the hatches

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Users of Adobe's Acrobat and Reader programs have a full four weeks to fret over a critical flaw that's being exploited in the wild to install malware on vulnerable machines.

Adobe said on Wednesday it would issue an update that plugs the hole on January 12, the same day Microsoft is slated to release its next installment of security fixes. The announcement came as the exploit was added to the open-source Metasploit framework for penetration testers. If white hat hackers can replicate the attack, it stands to reason that black hats, who stand to profit much more, can't be far behind.

Brad Arkin, Adobe's director of product security and privacy, said here that his team considered issuing an out-of-cycle patch sooner. The team ultimately decided against that option because a fix wouldn't be ready for two to three weeks and would "negatively impact the timing" of the already scheduled January 12 update.

"The delay an out-of-cycle security update would force on the regularly scheduled quarterly release represents a significant negative," Arkin wrote. "Additionally, an informal poll we conducted indicated that most of the organizations we talked with were in favor of" waiting until January 12.

In the meantime, users should configure their programs to disable javascript. This can be done in Reader by opening up preferences, selecting the javascript tab and unchecking the box that says "Enable Acrobat javascript." Remember, there's no compelling reason for ever allowing javascript in Acrobat, and the computer you save may be your own.

Adobe has also released a javascript Blacklist Framework that provides customers granular control over the execution of specific javascript commands. No doubt, installation will be beyond what the Aunt Mildreds of the world will be able to fathom, but average Reg readers shouldn't have much trouble.

In the past, PDF exploits have managed to succeed even when javascript is disabled, and it wouldn't be surprising if that was the case this time around. Truly paranoid users may want to dump reader in favor of of an alternative such as Foxit. They're not immune to security exploits, either, but they're a much smaller target. ®

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