Adobe to patch zero-day Reader, Acrobat hole

Company will release the patch on January 12, allowing it to stick to its quarterly security update schedule. In the meantime, users can disable JavaScript.

Adobe on January 12 will patch a critical hole in Reader and Acrobat that is being exploited in attacks. That date is the company's next scheduled quarterly security update release.

The zero-day hole, which affects Reader and Acrobat versions 9.2 and earlier, could crash the system and allow an attacker to take control of the computer.

Malicious Adobe Acrobat PDF files are distributed via an e-mail attachment that, when opened, executes a Trojan that targets Windows systems, according to Symantec. The rate of infection is extremely limited and the risk assessment level is very low, the company said.

Adobe decided to issue the patch in cycle in about four weeks rather than work on an earlier patch release because that would take between two and three weeks to deliver and would put the regular quarterly update off schedule, the company said in a blog post.

"The team determined that by putting additional resources over the holidays towards the engineering and testing work required to ship a high confidence fix for this issue with low risk of introducing any new problems, they could deliver the fix as part of the quarterly update on January 12, 2010," Adobe's Brad Arkin wrote.

In the meantime, customers can use a new JavaScript Blacklist mitigation feature that allows for easy disabling of JavaScript, Arkin said.

"Additionally, an informal poll we conducted indicated that most of the organizations we talked with were in favor of [releasing the patch in cycle] to better align with their schedules," he wrote.

Meanwhile, Webroot analyzed the payload of the malware and found that it installs three files that look like Windows system files that are digitally signed with a forged Microsoft certificate. Unlike legitimate Microsoft-signed certificates, these lack an e-mail address and a time stamp, the company said in a blog post.

"Authors of Trojan horse apps rarely go to the trouble of digitally signing files in this way," writes Webroot researcher Andrew Brandt. "It's not clear why they would be digitally signing files, but clearly the person or people behind this are up to no good."

Updated 3:50 p.m. PST with Webroot finding forged Microsoft certificates in the malware.