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Adobe readies critical Reader update

Root cause of PDF complexity hairball remains

Adobe has promised to release a patch for a critical hole in its Adobe Reader and Acrobat PDF software next Tuesday (5 October).

The updates will address a zero-day cross-platform vulnerability first discovered three weeks ago that creates a possible mechanism for hackers to take over vulnerable PCs. The software developer plans to release Adobe Reader 9.3.4 for Windows, Macintosh and Unix, Adobe Acrobat 9.3.4 for Windows and Macintosh, and Adobe Reader 8.2.4 and Acrobat 8.2.4 for Windows and Macintosh next Tuesday a week ahead of its scheduled quarterly update, as explained in an advisory here.

Adobe plugged a related flaw in its Flash Player software with an out-of-sequence patch last week.

Adobe's applications rank second behind software from Microsoft as the favourite target for hackers and malware authors. For all its efforts to improve the patching and security process Adobe is still struggling to keep up its head above water. A big part of the reason for this is the complexity of the PDF format, which allows embedded JavaScript and all sorts of features of questionable utility to genuine users that serve as fodder for hacking attacks.

Anti-virus analyst Paul Baccas of Sophos Labs proposed replaceing PDF with a Safe Document Format during a presentation at the Virus Bulletin conference in Vancover on Thursday. Adobe plans to add sandboxing features to its Reader software, but Baccas said such a move does not go nearly far enough.

Three quarters of the security experts present at the talk agreed with the Sophos analyst in a show of hands, with only an estimated three per cent saying no change was needed. At the least JavaScript support ought to be dropped from PDF, Baccas argued, as explained in a blog post on his talk here. ®

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