Feeds

Adobe Reader vuln hit with unusually advanced attack

Eight more days to go

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

With more than a week until Adobe is scheduled to patch a critical vulnerability in its Reader and Acrobat applications, online thugs are targeting it with an unusually sophisticated attack.

The PDF file uses what's known as egg-hunting shellcode to compress the first phase of the malicious payload into 38 bytes, a tiny size that's designed to thwart anti-virus detection. As a result, just four of the 41 major AV programs detect the attack more than six days after the exploit surfaced, according to this analysis from Virus Total.

The shellcode then loads an obfuscated binary file contained in the PDF file that installs PoisonIvy, a backdoor client used to maintain control over infected PCs.

"Not only was this a very interesting example of a malicious PDF document carrying a sophisticated 'war head,' but it also showed the length attackers are willing to go to in order to make their malware as hard to detect as possible, not only for the AV vendors, but also for victims," wrote Bojan Zdrnja, a Sans handler who analyzed the exploit.

The PDF was distributed through email that was specifically targeted at an unnamed organization, Zdrnja, who is a senior information security consultant with Infigo, said in an interview with The Register. Based on the metadata found in the PDF, it originated in China and was produced on December 29.

Just to make the attack even harder for end users to detect, the obfuscated binary runs a third executable program that does nothing more than open a benign file called baby.pdf on the infected machine. Zdrnja believes this is done to deflect attention and prevent users from figuring out their PC has just been compromised.

In mid December, Adobe confirmed the critical flaw in Reader and Acrobat, but said a fix wouldn't come until January 12, the same day Microsoft is slated to release its next installment of security fixes. The vulnerability, which is classified as CVE-2009-4324, has been under targeted attack for more than three weeks. White hat hackers have also added an exploit to the Metasploit framework for penetration testers.

These latest in-the-wild attacks are bound to add fuel to critics who say Adobe software, which runs on well more than 95 percent of the world's computers, needs to be better screened for security vulnerabilities. The company is in the process of designing a new updater that will patch security holes in Reader, Acrobat, and Flash without requiring user interaction, according to the Zero Day blog. Beta users will begin testing it sometime this month.

This should come as good news. The wide availability of exploits targeting now-patched vulnerabilities suggests that a significant portion of users don't run the most recent version of the programs.

Adobe has also pledged to beef up the security of Reader and Acrobat by using software fuzzers and other tools to proactively find bugs that can be exploited. Since then, criminals have beat Adobe to spotting new critical vulnerabilities at least twice, including the latest attacks. ®

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
14 antivirus apps found to have security problems
Vendors just don't care, says researcher, after finding basic boo-boos in security software
'Things' on the Internet-of-things have 25 vulnerabilities apiece
Leaking sprinklers, overheated thermostats and picked locks all online
iWallet: No BONKING PLEASE, we're Apple
BLE-ding iPhones, not NFC bonkers, will drive trend - marketeers
Only '3% of web servers in top corps' fully fixed after Heartbleed snafu
Just slapping a patched OpenSSL on a machine ain't going to cut it, we're told
How long is too long to wait for a security fix?
Synology finally patches OpenSSL bugs in Trevor's NAS
Israel's Iron Dome missile tech stolen by Chinese hackers
Corporate raiders Comment Crew fingered for attacks
Tor attack nodes RIPPED MASKS off users for 6 MONTHS
Traffic confirmation attack bared users' privates - but to whom?
Multipath TCP speeds up the internet so much that security breaks
Black Hat research says proposed protocol will bork network probes, flummox firewalls
Roll out the welcome mat to hackers and crackers
Security chap pens guide to bug bounty programs that won't fail like Yahoo!'s
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Maximize storage efficiency across the enterprise
The HP StoreOnce backup solution offers highly flexible, centrally managed, and highly efficient data protection for any enterprise.