How Safe is Adobe Reader X for Windows?

Cyber Security

Vulnerabilities in commonly used and popular software applications were being exploited by the hackers to contaminate the PCs. Adobe PDF Reader was one of the most commonly exploited software.

Adobe Reader 9 was known for its vulnerabilities in the year 2010, which kept evolving despite the number of security patches released by Adobe. In order to check it, Adobe Reader X was released with security enhancements like sandboxing protection for Windows XP/Vista/7 and protected mode view. However, the safety in using Adobe Reader X, especially for Windows OS is still questionable.
Security in 2010 for Adobe Reader
Adobe applications were already the most targeted client-software by attackers during the last quarter of 2009. A report from McAfee came up saying that Adobe Reader and Flash, will be the primary target for attacks in 2010. According to National Vulnerability Database, there have been around 60 vulnerabilities reported for Adobe Reader and Acrobat for Mac, nearly all of which are rated with a “high” severity, since January 2010. In some cases, the vulnerabilities were released after they were already exploited.
Ad Serving solutionsThe number of security patches addressing critical security vulnerabilities have increased for the version 9 of Adobe Reader. Amid these, Adobe came up with Adobe Acrobat X (version 10.0) on November 15, 2010.
Why Adobe Reader was targeted?
While there are many other PDF readers in the market, Adobe is heard much of all in terms of security vulnerabilities. This can be because of –

  • Adobe Reader supports JavaScript and Flash within PDFs. This creates opportunities for attackers to embed malicious codes in PDFs using these programming languages, that execute when you open the file.
  • Adobe Reader supports embedded content for which it uses Parser (a bit of software) to interpret the content and display it properly. However, each bit of parsing code is a potential point of failure and is mostly exploited by hackers. Malformed content is used in PDFs to crash the parser and execute a memory corruption attack on the PC.
  • The popularity of Adobe due to its support to the Windows is also one of the reasons why it is mostly targeted. Windows being the major OS with 91% market share in client PCs and Adobe being used in most of these PCs, hackers find it easy to hack into these PCs using vulnerabilities of Adobe. Adobe has Acrobat version for PDF reader in MAC OS, which isn’t reported to be targeted by attackers much.

Enhanced security features in X version
Adobe Reader X has many security advancements compared to its earlier versions. The majors being the following:

  • The biggest security change in Reader X is the addition of Sandboxing or Adobe Reader Protected Mode – only for Windows. Sandboxing mitigates the risk of what an attacker can do even if they successfully exploit Reader. The risks covered include deployment of malware in the PC to changing the file system or registry of the PC.
  • An intensive code hardening program was implemented to reduce vulnerabilities or security flaws in Reader. This security development process included a combination of testing, code review, and programming standards.
  • Improved JavaScript blacklist framework, which allows you to disable only specific functions of JavaScript instead of completely disabling it.
  • Altered way of prompting security alerts or preference settings. Especially for alerts, a yellow alert bar with descriptive text is dropped down, in place of Yes/No dialog boxes that users instinctively click without reading. The user will have to click on the Options in the text and choose one of them.

Adobe Reader X still not safe
The enhanced security features discussed above do not make Adobe Reader invulnerable. Sandbox mode only acts as a protection layer, preventing the attacker from writing files or installing malware on potential victims’ computers, even if the vulnerabilities are exploited. Other security features explained above depend on the preferences of the user. However, the version 10 of Adobe Reader is the best in terms of security, compared to its previous versions. If you are still using the older version of Reader click here to update.
Malware creators are getting innovative and looking for new ways to infect the PCs with malware. “Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.” Similarly, the more you are watchful and aware of the security vulnerabilities and ways to defend them, the more you will be safer and secure.

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