Yes, for many it seems that way. It’s a good thing that the PDF format has become ubiquitous, or it would have been dropped long before now. Adobe Acrobat Reader has become a de facto standard, which is why the masses tolerate its monthly security updates, which form an interesting parallel to Microsoft’s Patch Tuesday.

The one difference I see is that Adobe maintains lots of customer good will by getting out in front of the problems, and telling their customers to be careful, while it quickly crafts a fix for the problem encountered. Microsoft is neither open nor quick in many of its fixes, and seems to make the same mistakes repeatedly.

The warning this time comes through an article in ComputerWorld

Adobe is investigating new reports that hackers are attacking a previously unknown bug in the latest version of the company’s Reader and Acrobat software.

“This afternoon, Adobe received reports of a vulnerability in Adobe Reader and Acrobat 9.2 and earlier versions being exploited in the wild,” Adobe wrote in a post to its Product Security Incident Response Team (PSIRT) blog Monday afternoon. “We are currently investigating this issue and assessing the risk to our customers.”

Adobe had few details on the reported problem. “As soon as we have additional details, we will update the PSIRT blog,” a spokeswoman said in an e-mail message.

Adobe learned of the attack on Monday, said Brad Arkin, Adobe’s director of product security and privacy. “Three different partners in the security community shared samples of the same attack with us within a few minutes of each other this afternoon,” he said via instant message.

The criminals are exploiting this flaw by sending malicious PDF files to victims, according to the volunteer-run malware tracking group Shadowserver.

“This is legit and is very bad,” Shadowserver said in a post to its Web site late Monday. Shadowserver could not be reached immediately for comment.

Shadowserver said that several “tests have confirmed this is a 0-day vulnerability affecting several versions of Adobe Acrobat [Reader] to include the most recent versions of 8.x and 9.x. We have not tested on 7.x, but it may also be vulnerable.”

At some point, Adobe will alienate enough of the customer base that people will stop using the reader, but until some other company brings 100% compatibility to a reader work-alike, their place at the average user’s table is preserved.

Moreover, the rich editing and formatting capabilities of the Acrobat application keep many distributors of information solidly in the Adobe corner. Microsoft has nothing to compare, and does little to nothing for non-Microsoft platforms (this is the true genius that was at the beginning of the Acrobat project, cross platform compatibility was there from the start.)

The vulnerability is due to a bug in the way Reader processes JavaScript code, according to Shadowserver. The group recommends that concerned users disable JavaScript within Adobe’s software as a work-around for this problem. (This can be done by un-checking the “Enable Acrobat JavaScript” in the Edit -> Preferences -> JavaScript window)

Security experts say that running malicious JavaScript code within Reader has become a favorite hacking technique this year.

The attack has been used by cybercriminals since at least Friday, but has not seen any widespread use, Shadowserver said. “Expect the exploit to become more wide spread in the next few weeks and unfortunately potentially become fully public within the same timeframe.”

Most antivirus products do not yet detect the attack, Shadowserver noted.

With Reader and Acrobat installed on most of the world’s PCs, the products have become an increasingly attractive target for computer hackers who take advantage of flaws in the system to run unauthorized programs on victims’ PCs.

So like Microsoft, ubiquity has a downside for popular software. It is really disconcerting that most A-V scanners don’t pick this up, but then designing an antivirus program is a job I’d never want to tackle. (The new Microsoft tool for loading Windows 7 on a USB thumbdrive was flagged yesterday on my computer by Avira, telling me it was infected with a Trojan! It is not, unless that is the way Microsoft is distributing it!)

Until the fix comes, disabling the Javascript within the reader seems like a prudent thing to do.


Opera, the fastest and most secure web browser