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Adobe confirms targeted attacks due to security hole in Reader

Cybercriminals have already taken advantage of the latest security hole in Adobe Reader and Acrobat.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
2 min read
Screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

A zero-day security flaw in Adobe Reader and Acrobat is being exploited through a series of targeted attacks against vulnerable computers, Adobe Systems said yesterday.

In a security bulletin, Adobe confirmed that the vulnerabilities could cause Reader and Acrobat to crash, potentially opening the door for an attacker to gain control of the system.

"Adobe is aware of reports that these vulnerabilities are being exploited in the wild in targeted attacks designed to trick Windows users into clicking on a malicious PDF file delivered in an email message," the company revealed in the bulletin.

Adobe said it's currently working on a fix for the security issue and will update its bulletin once a launch has been scheduled. In the meantime, Windows users of Adobe Reader XI and Acrobat XI can protect themselves from the security exploit by turning on Protected View as follows:

Open Reader or Acrobat. Click on the Edit menu, select Preferences, and then click on the Security (or Security Enhanced) option. In the Protected View section at the top of the window, click on the button to enable "Files from potentially unsafe locations" and then click OK.

The workaround above helps Windows users of Reader and Acrobat XI. But the flaw itself affects several different versions of the products, specifically:

  • Adobe Reader XI (11.0.01 and earlier) for Windows and Macintosh
  • Adobe Reader X (10.1.5 and earlier) for Windows and Macintosh
  • Adobe Reader 9.5.3 and earlier 9.x versions for Windows and Macintosh
  • Adobe Acrobat XI (11.0.01 and earlier) for Windows and Macintosh
  • Adobe Acrobat X (10.1.5 and earlier) for Windows and Macintosh
  • Adobe Acrobat 9.5.3 and earlier 9.x versions for Windows and Macintosh

The vulnerability was reportedly uncovered by security firm FireEye, which explained how it's exploited by attackers:

Upon successful exploitation, it will drop two DLLs. The first DLL shows a fake error message and opens a decoy PDF document, which is usually common in targeted attacks. The second DLL in turn drops the callback component, which talks to a remote domain.

FireEye added that it's been working with Adobe on the issue and agreed with the company not to post any technical details of the flaw. The firm also suggested that Reader and Acrobat users not open any unknown PDFs for now.