Feeds

What Adobe could learn from The Flying Wallendas

Do security safety nets make Reader less safe?

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

Analysis The Flying Wallendas were a legendary circus troupe that performed death-defying acts from a high wire without the use of nets or safety devices of any kind. Even when they performed their world-famous four-person, three-level pyramid act 50 feet in the air, patriarch Karl Wallenda steadfastly eschewed nets out of a belief they sapped the aerialists' concentration.

“He did feel that a net could cause you to be sloppy and not really train the way you should to prepare for a performance and therefore give you a false security,” Karl Wallenda's grandson, Tino, said recently from a performance in Greenfield, Massachusetts. “It makes the audience feel comfortable more than it makes us, the performers, feel comfortable.”

Perhaps the recently discovered attack targeting a code-execution vulnerability in Adobe's near-ubiquitous Reader application should raise similar concerns in the software arena.

The 15-page PDF was able to compromise PCs even when they ran Reader on versions of Microsoft Windows that are fortified with protections designed to lessen the damage from garden-variety bugs – such as the stack overflow being targeted in Reader. While white-hat hackers have demonstrated similar techniques over the past 18 months or so, the Reader exploit marks one of the first times they've been used in the wild, Nicolas Joly, a vulnerability researcher with Vupen Security, said earlier this week.

Image of Wallendas performing pyramid act

Constantly risking absurdity security

Particularly hard to defeat – or so we've been told – is a protection known as ASLR, or address space layout randomization, which Microsoft introduced with Windows Vista. It loads system components in a different memory location each time a machine is rebooted. That means that even when attackers have identified a vulnerability that allows malicious code to be injected into the operating system, they will have a hard time knowing where to find and run it.

The criminals behind the Adobe exploit worked around this feature by piggybacking their attack on a Reader file known as icucnv36.dll, which because of an oversight at Adobe, doesn't make use of ASLR. With a single mistake, a protection Microsoft spent years developing was undone. An Adobe spokeswoman said the company will “perform a thorough review of each vulnerability and our response” – including the lack of ASLR protection for the DLL file – so that changes can be made to the development process.

The attack also got around a second major defense that's known as DEP, or data execution prevention. The feature blocks the execution of code in specific memory regions, a measure that prevents the running of malicious shellcode even if it manages to sneak into a known region of computer memory. To do this, the attackers made use of a technique called ROP. Short for return oriented programming, it copies legitimate pieces of code already in use and reorders them in a way that significantly alters what they do.

ROP turned heads when it was successfully used at this year's Pwn2Own hacker contest. It's now becoming a staple of exploits used in the wild. And so are techniques, such as heap spraying and JIT spraying, that defeat ASLR.

And that should be a wake-up call for the entire industry.

New hybrid storage solutions

Next page: Devs on a wire

More from The Register

next story
Apple Pay is a tidy payday for Apple with 0.15% cut, sources say
Cupertino slurps 15 cents from every $100 purchase
Google recommends pronounceable passwords
Super Chrome goes into battle with Mr Mxyzptlk
Infosec geniuses hack a Canon PRINTER and install DOOM
Internet of Stuff securo-cockups strike yet again
Reddit wipes clean leaked celeb nudie pics, tells users to zip it
Now we've had all THAT TRAFFIC, we 'deplore' this theft
YouTube, Amazon and Yahoo! caught in malvertising mess
Cisco says 'Kyle and Stan' attack is spreading through compromised ad networks
TorrentLocker unpicked: Crypto coding shocker defeats extortionists
Lousy XOR opens door into which victims can shove a foot
Greater dev access to iOS 8 will put us AT RISK from HACKERS
Knocking holes in Apple's walled garden could backfire, says securo-chap
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile
Data demand and the rise of virtualization is challenging IT teams to deliver storage performance, scalability and capacity that can keep up, while maximizing efficiency.
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.
Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.