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19 November 2010, 16:17

Adobe Reader X released with Windows sandbox

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Adobe Reader X (10.0) (link to FTP-server) is now available for Windows, Mac OS X and Android – a Linux version has yet to be released. The most exciting change is the sandbox (included only in the Windows version), which should improve the PDF reader's overall security. It aims to prevent vulnerabilities in Reader from being used to infect PCs. The function, dubbed 'Protected Mode' by Adobe, blocks attempts by infected PDFs to write and execute code. It should also prevent infected files from making registry changes. Future versions will reportedly control read access to prevent attackers from reading confidential data from the file system.

Sandbox functionality has been achieved by implementing a range of technologies. The actual PDF process for rendering text and images now runs in a user-independent process with restricted privileges. If specific actions need to be performed outside the sandbox environment, the renderer calls additional 'broker processes' to interact with the outside world. The broker process checks whether the requested action is permitted against a set security policy. Previously, injected malicious code was executed with the user's privileges and had unrestricted access to the entire system.

Adobe released version 9.4.1, which fixed 19 vulnerabilities just days ago. In introducing a sandbox, Adobe is reacting to the multiplicity of criminal attacks on Adobe Reader, which exploit vulnerabilities to infect Windows PCs with malware. The vendor is frank about the fact that the sandbox is not bullet-proof. However, in recent months attacks on Reader have already started to drop, with Java vulnerabilities taking over as the most popular target for drive-by virus downloads.

The new version of the free Reader also includes additional functions. Acrobat is no longer required to add comments and notes – Reader X is now able to perform this function. Experienced users can now also customise printer options in greater detail. One example – in RGB, grey is interpreted as a mixture of different colours. It is now possible to specify grey as an ink-saving K-only. Like Acrobat X Pro, Reader now contains a pallet area for performing functions such as sending PDF files as emails.

The Reader browser plug-in has a semi-transparent 'heads up display' containing commonly used functions. A very old irritation has finally been confined to the dustbin of history – pressing Ctrl+P in the browser plug-in now launches Reader's print dialogue, rather than the browser's.


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