Adobe rewrites PDF Reader to bolster security

Protected mode a ground-up revamp

Adobe has offered more details of the 'sandbox' security feature it plans to implement to secure its hugely popular but often-attacked PDF Reader software.

First announced last July, the latest description put out by Adobe's security development team makes clear that Reader's new 'protected mode' will be no mere bolt-on. This is starting to look like a ground-up re-design of how the program operates, almost from scratch.

The new Reader design will see core and risky PDF functions such as font rendering, Javascript execution, 3D rendering and image parsing happen within the confines of the application itself, isolating these from the privileges of the operating system.

This effectively relegates Reader to a new rung of privilege below that if the system user, which stops the application simply accessing key parts of the OS such as the Registry or file system as it likes. Instead all such calls will have to go through a trusted broker process if they want to communicate beyond the sandbox.

The new design won't stop exploits targeting Reader but they will limit what can be done from within its confines. At the moment, that is more or less anything the attacker wants, including being able to take over the system.

"The challenge is to enable sandboxing while keeping user workflows functional without turning off features users depend on," says Adobe's blog.

As the developers admit, the potential hole in security is always the operating system itself, which can still be compromised, although exploiting such vulnerabilities is as easy as it easy a few years back. Microsoft's software development lifecycle (SDL) has tightened up code security.

The first version sandbox will also not protect against read access to the file system (which allows data theft) or registry, or restricting network access, but future versions will look at this aspect of security.

Adding defence mechanism to specific applications other than browsers is an unusual approach to application design, but Reader's security troubles have gone beyond that of most applications.

The company's regular security updates have become almost as big an event as Microsoft's own patch Tuesday.

The timescale for protected mode to appear in Reader has still not been confirmed.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Adobe SystemsPersonal Tech

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

John E Dunn

Techworld
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?