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Critical Adobe updates overshadow MS Patch Tuesday

PDF peril finally plugged

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January's Patch Tuesday update from Microsoft was overshadowed in importance by fixes that defend against highly publicised exploits in Adobe Acrobat and Reader.

The vulnerabilities in Adobe's software have been the target of hacking attacks since mid-December and so rate higher in important than Microsoft's solitary update, a fix for a flaw in how Windows 2000 handles Embedded OpenType Fonts.

The flaw is critical for Windows 2000 only, since it alone uses the vulnerable code to decompress EOT files, and low-to-no risk for other flavours of Windows. XP users, however, ought to note that the version of Flash that comes bundled with the OS is vulnerable and therefore needs upgrading.

Adobe's cross-platform fixes for zero-day vulnerabilities in Adobe Reader and Acrobat also coincide with the release of 24 security updates from Oracle, covering flaws across the enterprise software firm's full product range. Altogether, then, there's no shortage of work for hard-pressed sys admins.

Users of Adobe Reader 9.2 and Acrobat 9.2 and earlier versions for Windows, Macintosh and Unix are advised to update to Adobe Reader 9.3 and Acrobat 9.3, while users of Acrobat 8.1.7 ought to upgrade to Acrobat 8.2.

The latest quarterly patch batch from Adobe also introduces a new update process. The previous update process was a chore and created an environment where Adobe updates were seldom applied, creating a fertile playing field for hackers. Security firms, most notably F-Secure, have advised surfers to consider using alternative PDF reader packages while other experts urge substantial changes short of abandoning Adobe products.

Wolfgang Kandek, CTO at Qualys, commented that network admins ought to consider turning off JavaScript in Adobe Reader, and not just because the latest Adobe exploit hinged on exploiting the technology. "JavaScript has played a major role in the exploitation of Adobe Reader in 2009, so this a good preventive and defensive measure," Kandek explained.

More on Adobe's update can be found here. Oracle's security bulletin can be found here and details on the lightest Patch Tuesday in years can be found here. ®

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