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Adobe apologizes for festering Flash crash bug

16 months...and counting

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

An Adobe product manager has apologized for allowing a potentially serious bug in Flash Player to remain unfixed for more than 16 months.

The admission, by Emmy Huang, product manager for Flash, came a week after Apple CEO Steve Jobs lambasted Adobe engineers as "lazy" and said when Macs crash, "more often than not it’s because of Flash." Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch struck back, insisting that at Adobe, "we don't ship Flash with any known crash bugs."

The crash bug at issue in Huang's blog post published over the weekend was reported in September 2008, but it has yet to be excised from release versions of Flash. She said a beta version of Flash scheduled for official release later this year has fixed the problem.

She went on to say the flaw should have been patched in one of the interim updates released over the past 16 months.

"I want to reiterate that it is our policy that crashes are serious 'A' priority bugs, and it is a tenet of the Flash Player team that ActionScript developers should never be able to crash Flash Player," she wrote. "If a crash occurs, it is by definition a bug, and one that Adobe takes very seriously."

The bug in version 9 of the software was reported by security researcher Matthew Dempsey on Adobe's Flash Player bugbase. Flash 10 was released a month later, making it impractical to fix the flaw in the next release. The report "slipped through the cracks," an omission that allowed the bug to languish even as other flaws were repaired in subsequent updates.

Over the past year, critics (El Reg among them) have assailed Adobe for a steady stream of security bugs that have been exploited in drive-by and email attacks that aim to install keyloggers and other types of malware on the machines of unwary users. Jobs, meanwhile, timed his remarks to the release of the iPad, which is notable for completely shunning the Adobe media program.

CTO Lynch flatly rejected the criticism from Jobs, arguing that "if there was such a widespread problem historically Flash could not have achieved its wide use today." As if a product's widespread adoption were a guarantee that is was free from serious defects.

Huang's post seems to admit as much. But its forthrightness also suggests Adobe may finally be heeding critics. "I intend to follow up with the product manager (or Adobe rep) who worked on this issue to make sure it doesn't happen again," she wrote.

While the bug is said to generate only a simple crash, attackers often go on to figure out how to exploit such flaws to remotely execute malicious code. Dempsky has additional details about the bug here. A demo - which he warns will cause browsers to crash - is here.

"I'm not an Apple fan boy out to prove Steve Jobs right in Apple's decision not to support Flash on the iPhone/iPad," he explained. "Instead, I'm just a software engineer who at one time had to deal with Adobe's sorry excuse for a development platform and made an earnest effort on several occasions at helping them improve it for everyone." ®

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