5/20/2009
07:13 PM
George V. Hulme
George V. Hulme
Commentary

Adobe (Finally) Getting Security Religion

In the past number of years Adobe Systems hasn't seemed to have its act together when it comes to mitigating security risks in its PDF. Hopefully, that's about to change.



In the past number of years Adobe Systems hasn't seemed to have its act together when it comes to mitigating security risks in its PDF. Hopefully, that's about to change.When it comes to security, this has been a tough year for Adobe. It's near ubiquitous document format, PDF, has been the target of a number of attacks and highly publicized zero-days.

In March, I dinged Adobe for its handling of a zero-day. It seems its customers must have been putting on the pressure, as well, according to this Adobe blog post the company is going to be focusing on hardening its legacy code, improve its response time to zero-day and vulnerability discoveries, and provide a more consistent patch publishing schedule:

Since February, Adobe Reader and Acrobat engineers have been executing a major project focused on software security. Everything from our security team's communications during an incident to our security update process to the code itself has been carefully reviewed. Security is an ongoing process, so while we believe our plan will eliminate or mitigate many potential security risks, we are also working to enhance our ability to respond to externally found vulnerabilities in Adobe Reader and Acrobat in the future.

In particular, we have focused this security effort in three major areas:

1. Code Hardening - For the past several years all new code and features for Adobe Reader and Acrobat have been subject to our modern Secure Product Lifecycle (SPLC). The Adobe SPLC is similar to Microsoft's Security Development Lifecycle (SDL). The Adobe SPLC integrates standard secure software activities such as threat modeling, automated and manual security code reviews, and fuzzing into the standard Adobe Product Lifecycle we follow for all projects. The SPLC activities have been successful in mitigating threats in new code development, but did not fully address problems in the existing code base. Therefore, an initiative in the current security effort has been focused on hardening at-risk areas of the legacy code. We've applied the latest SPLC techniques against these prioritized sections of each application. Even in cases where no immediate vulnerability was identified, we have been strengthening input validation on a best-practice basis. (Experience shows such validation is a powerful tool in preventing as-yet unidentified security holes.)

2. Incident Response Process Improvements - We've targeted several specific areas where we are improving our incident response process. We expect folks outside Adobe will see more timely communications regarding incidents, quicker turn-around times on patch releases, and simultaneous patches for more affected versions as we move forward. This approach was tested sooner than we would have liked with CVE-2009-1492/1493. Although this incident fell in the middle of our security effort, we were encouraged by the progress our response demonstrated. We worked to communicate early and often via our PSIRT blog and two weeks later, on May 12, 2009, we simultaneously shipped 29 binaries to update 17 different versions of Adobe Reader and Acrobat covering 32 languages for the Windows, Mac, and UNIX platforms.

3. Regular Security Updates - Starting this summer with the initial output of our security code hardening effort, we plan to release security updates for all major supported versions and platforms of Adobe Reader and Acrobat on a quarterly basis. Based on feedback from our customers, who have processes and resources geared toward Microsoft's "Patch Tuesday" security updates, we will make Adobe's quarterly patches available on the same days. (Although our 3/10/09 and 5/12/09 security patches landed on Patch Tuesday, the timing was coincidental. In both cases, we shipped the patches as soon as we finished testing them.)

I've two comments: First, This is excellent news. Second, I hope they're taking notes at 1 Infinite Loop.

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