Feeds

Ditch the malware magnet

A sysadmin battles his nemesis

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Sysadmin blog It is no secret that I have little use for endpoint anti-malware protection apps. In my experience they are all, regardless of vendor, virtually worthless. A well written piece of modern endpoint anti-malware will briefly inform you that you have been infected right before it commits seppuku and vanishes, leaving you to deal with the malware and all the little friends it downloaded.

The best way to deal with malware, of course, is not to get infected in the first place. This means learning to manage application vulnerabilities.

I point the zombie-infested malware-ridden finger of ultimate shame at Adobe. Adobe is my personal nemesis. When I go to work tomorrow there are three computers from clients waiting for me, each of them pwned by a flash ads on Facebook. There are another two that, from what I can determine, were hit by infected PDFs.

Similar to Microsoft Office, the near universal distribution of Adobe’s Flash and Reader products makes them prime targets. The easiest way to avoid the risk is to not install either product, but this is impossible for most internet users. I’m going to deal with the risk of Adobe Reader right away, and we’ll leave coping with Flash until next time.

If you must use Adobe Reader, take the time to secure it. To do this, open the application and choose Edit and then Preferences. You will see several different categories of options to tweak. Under JavaScript a checkbox disables Adobe Reader’s ability to run dangerous JavaScript from a PDF. Under Security (Enhanced), another checkbox helps to secure the application. The Trust Manager category allows you to disable Acrobat’s ability to call external applications to handle non-PDF files - a setting change I heartily recommend.

Of course, the best way to deal with the myriad vulnerabilities in Adobe Reader is simply to replace it with an alternative.

Foxit of course is the most popular Reader replacement, but it comes with a warning: as Foxit has worked hard to reproduce the abilities of Adobe Reader, so too has it reproduced many of its vulnerabilities. If you install Foxit Reader, take the time to defang it before using it.

PDF-XChange Viewer is probably the second most popular Reader alternative. Like Foxit, it is a feature-rich replacement for Reader that carries some vulnerabilities with it, thanks to its attempts to be compatible with Reader. Take time to review its security settings.

Cool PDF Reader is a dead simple PDF reader with no fancy features. I have not heard of any exploits for this piece of software, and I would be surprised if any PDFs designed to exploit Adobe Reader were to tip this application over. It doesn’t have the feature list of Adobe Reader, Foxit or PDF-XChange, but from a security standpoint that’s a Good Thing.

Sumatra PDF, like Cool PDF Reader, is a minimalist PDF reader. There is no fancy anything; it just views PDFs.

Perfect PDF is somewhere in the middle. It has fewer features than Foxit or PDF XChange, but more than Cool or Sumatra. In my time tinkering with it, I failed to see any obvious flaws that would lend themselves to exploitation such as Javascript or multimedia embedding. Perfect PDF has embraced the ribbon-bar UI first introduced with Office 2007, and as such the interface is a little controversial.

Regardless of which PDF application you choose, avoid Adobe: it simply isn’t worth the risk to keep this malware magnet around. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
Docker's app containers are coming to Windows Server, says Microsoft
MS chases app deployment speeds already enjoyed by Linux devs
IBM storage revenues sink: 'We are disappointed,' says CEO
Time to put the storage biz up for sale?
'Hmm, why CAN'T I run a water pipe through that rack of media servers?'
Leaving Las Vegas for Armenia kludging and Dubai dune bashing
Facebook slurps 'paste sites' for STOLEN passwords, sprinkles on hash and salt
Zuck's ad empire DOESN'T see details in plain text. Phew!
Windows 10: Forget Cloudobile, put Security and Privacy First
But - dammit - It would be insane to say 'don't collect, because NSA'
Symantec backs out of Backup Exec: Plans to can appliance in Jan
Will still provide support to existing customers
VMware's tool to harden virtual networks: a spreadsheet
NSX security guide lands in intriguing format
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.