New Security Capabilities in Adobe Reader and Acrobat XI Now Available!

This week, Adobe released the next generation of Adobe Reader XI and Acrobat XI with improved security features, among many other enhancements.

Adobe Reader X represented a milestone release in terms of security with the introduction of Adobe Reader Protected Mode (aka “sandboxing”), which created a more secure environment for our customers. We followed the Adobe Reader X release with the introduction of Adobe Acrobat X (10.1) Protected View. Since we added sandbox protection to Adobe Reader and Acrobat, we have not seen any exploits in the wild that break out of the Adobe Reader and Acrobat X sandbox.

Over the last year, we have continued to work on adding security capabilities to Adobe Reader and Acrobat, and today, we are very excited to present Adobe Reader and Acrobat XI with a number of new or enhanced security features.

Adobe Reader XI Protected Mode (Enhanced)

In our Adobe Reader X sandbox implementation, the sandboxing architecture’s primary focus was on “write protection” to prevent the attacker from installing malware on the user’s machine and from monitoring the user’s keystrokes when the user interacts with another program.

In Adobe Reader XI, we have added data theft prevention capabilities by extending the sandbox to restrict read-only activities to help protect against attackers seeking to read sensitive information on the user’s computer.

Adobe Reader Protected View (New) and Adobe Acrobat Protected View (Enhanced)

To provide an additional layer of defense and strengthen the sandbox protection in Adobe Reader and Acrobat even further, we have implemented a separate desktop and WinStation in Adobe Reader and Acrobat XI, which will block, for instance, screen scraping attacks. For additional insights into implementing a separate desktop to provide an additional layer of defense, see David LeBlanc’s Web log entry Practical Windows Sandboxing – Part 3. For details on WinStations and desktops in general, click here.

This mode effectively introduces a new Protected View in Adobe Reader and enhances the Protected View implementation in Adobe Acrobat even further. Protected View behaves identically for Adobe Reader and Acrobat, whether viewing PDF files in the standalone product or in the browser. For more information, administrators can refer to the Enterprise Toolkit for Acrobat Users.

Force ASLR Support in Adobe Reader/Acrobat XI

Adobe Reader and Acrobat leverage platform mitigations such as Data Execution Prevention (DEP), Address Space Layout Randomization (ASLR), etc. In Adobe Reader and Acrobat XI, we have enabled support for Force ASLR on Windows 7 and Windows 8. Force ASLR improves the effectiveness of existing ASLR implementations by ensuring that all DLLs loaded by Adobe Reader or Acrobat XI, including legacy DLLs without ASLR enabled, are randomized. By enabling Force ASLR in Adobe Reader and Acrobat XI, we are making it even more difficult for an attacker to exploit vulnerabilities. For more information on ASLR and Force ASLR, please refer to Microsoft’s Knowledge Base article on the topic.

PDF Whitelisting Framework

For high-assurance, managed enterprise environments, we’ve added the Adobe PDF Whitelisting Framework, which allows administrators to selectively enable advanced functionality, such as JavaScript for specific PDF files, sites or hosts, on both Windows and Mac OS.

Support for Elliptic Curve Cryptography

And last but not least, we have added support for Elliptic Curve Cryptography (ECC) for digital signatures in the area of content security. Users can now embed long-term validation information automatically when using certificate signatures and use certificate signatures that support elliptic curve cryptography (ECC)-based credentials.

We’re excited about these additional security capabilities in Adobe Reader and Acrobat XI, which mark the latest in our continued endeavor to help protect our customers by providing a safer working environment.

Priyank Choudhury
Security Researcher, Adobe Secure Software Engineering Team (ASSET)