Adobe Keeps Focus on Security in 2010 as Attackers Circle

Almost a year after changing its development process and a week away from a Jan. 12 patch for yet another zero-day vulnerability, Adobe Systems remains a popular target for attackers. But the company is not taking it sitting down.

Adobe Systems took its share of security hits in 2009. It changed its update schedule and took steps to improve application development, but still ended the year with a prediction from McAfee that the number of attacks against Adobe products would surpass those against Microsoft Office.

Officials at Adobe know this; in fact, they anticipate that attackers will move on their products with increased intensity in 2010. For that reason, the company is rolling out an automatic update mechanism and continuing to work on tightening security.

"With our October 2009 security update for Adobe Reader and Acrobat, we shipped a beta version of a new updater that will keep end users up-to-date in a much more streamlined and automated way, making it easier to get users to upgrade to the latest, most secure version of the product," said Brad Arkin, director of product security and privacy at Adobe. "The first trial of the new updater for beta pilot users will be the Jan. 12 quarterly security update. Our goal is to quickly exit the beta phase and use the new updater as the default for all Adobe Reader and Acrobat users. Using an 'opt out' model, the new Adobe Reader and Acrobat updater will be configured to download and install updates in the background without requiring user interaction."

Customers also have the option of changing the configuration, which may be appropriate for enterprise users following patch cycles specific to their particular organization, Arkin added.

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In February 2009, Adobe began changing its development process by including analysis of legacy code in updated applications such as new versions of Adobe Reader. As part of its new security process, Adobe also introduced the ASSET (Adobe Secure Software Engineering Team) Certification Program for its engineering and product teams to raise awareness and implement best practices during the design phase.

In addition to those changes, the company also altered its patch release schedule to align with Microsoft's monthly Patch Tuesday updates. The Jan. 12 update will fix a zero-day vulnerability in Adobe Reader and Acrobat that came under attack in December 2009.

"One of the main attack vectors we have observed for PDF/Adobe Reader has been around JavaScript," Arkin said, adding that the last quarterly update for Adobe Reader and Acrobat introduced security enhancements relating to Adobe Reader and Acrobat's handling of JavaScript.

"These include the ability to disable JavaScript using an improved 'gold bar' user interface (an improvement from the previous pop-up box), significant improvements to strengthen input validation on all JavaScript calls [and] the introduction of a JavaScript Blacklist mechanism. The Adobe Reader and Acrobat JavaScript Blacklist Framework provides customers [with] granular control over the execution of specific JavaScript API calls in threat situations-an alternative to completely disabling JavaScript, which could have significant impact on both user experience and productivity."

In the end, Arkin said, the prevalence of products such as Adobe Reader and Adobe Flash keeps them on the menu for attackers.

"Of course, security is a process and not a task that is ever finished," he said. "We continuously monitor the threat landscape and the latest developments in the security community, and ... our security processes [evolves] accordingly as part of our ongoing security efforts to help ensure the security of our customers."