Author Archive: Peleus Uhley

Securely deploying cross-domain policy files

Peleus here. There has been a recent focus on cross-domain policy deployments in the media, so I thought this would be a good time to remind people of some best practices.  Cross-domain security was a focus of my recent presentation at the Microsoft BlueHat conference. I have also covered this topic within my Creating More Secure SWF Web Applications article.  With more plugin platforms adopting the format and similar controls being added to HTML5, it is becoming increasingly important to ensure the correct deployment of a cross-domain architecture.  Here are five best practices that should be followed to ensure a secure deployment.


1. Avoid full wildcard permissions (domain=”*”,  headers=”*”, to-ports=”*”).  There are only a small number of legitimate use cases for full wildcard (*) permissions.  If granting full permission is absolutely necessary, then the best practice is to create a sub-domain on your site whose explicit purpose is to serve cross-domain data.  Another option is to leverage Flash Player’s support of per-directory cross-domain permissions and place the data and the full wildcard cross-domain policy within a sub-directory of the site dedicated for that purpose.  Full wildcards on internal networks can also be dangerous since they can result in external content being granted access to internal resources. A full wildcard should also never applied to the headers attribute of the allow-http-request-headers-from element or the to-ports attribute of the allow-access-from element in production.  Once a wildcard permission has been deployed, it can be very challenging to restrict permissions at a later date because there is no easy way to identify what content depends on that permission.


2. Don’t use sub-domain wildcards (* with domains that allow user-uploaded content.  This issue has grown as an increasing number of sites on the web support hosting user generated content. Quoting Microsoft’s 10 Immutable Laws of Security, “Law #4: If you allow a bad guy to upload programs to your website, it’s not your website any more.”  Therefore, if you are granting cross-domain permission to * and hosts end-user content, then you are not trusting just  You are also trusting all the users who are permitted to upload content to  An attacker can upload a malicious SWF to, use the * permission to retrieve sensitive data from your site and then pass that data back to the attacker’s web site.


3. Avoid cross-domain permissions on sites that require authentication.  Any data that requires authentication for access probably should not be available to third-party domains.  Flash Player does not provide access to the header of an HTTP response.  Therefore developers may assume that SWF content cannot gain access to the session information stored within the cookie headers.  However, some architectures will add the session information as a parameter onto the end of a URL contained within the response body where an attacker can gain access to it.  Once an attacker has access to the session information of the victim, they can impersonate that user.


4. Cross-domain policies require periodic maintenance.  Your web site will grow and change over time and you will need to reevaluate the cross-domain permissions with respect those changes.  If you are granting permissions to domains outside of your control, then keep in contact with that party to ensure that the permissions are still necessary and that they are still used within the same context.  You can limit your risk by periodically removing excess permissions.


5. Cross-domain permissions are not the only method for sharing data between domains.  Rather than using the client to bridge two domains, consider using server-side code to make the cross-domain request via a server-to-server channel.  Server-side code can enforce stricter controls on the request and act as a proxy between the client and the second domain.  This has the trade-off of increasing traffic to the server but may allow for a more controlled channel.  Be sure to consider all of your options before determining the best solution.


Cross-domain policies are a part of the code that makes up your web application.  Like any other code, they require periodic maintenance and review to ensure security.  Cross-domain policies should follow the same principle of least privilege that you apply to code. Only the minimum permissions required for the architecture should be enabled.  The best architectures are simple and straightforward. Creating a sub-domain whose explicit purpose is to host cross-domain content can prevent unintentional disclosure. Overall, approach cross-domain policies as you would any other code. Following these best practices can help you secure your cross-domain deployment.


For further information and best practice guidance, please see:


Peleus here. As part of Adobe’s Secure Product Life Cycle (SPLC) efforts, we are always looking ahead to determine the future of the threat landscape. My particular focus is researching threats to Adobe’s Flash Platform products. This week, I will be co-presenting with Jesse Collins from Microsoft’s Silverlight team at the Microsoft BlueHat conference. We will be combining our research so that we can create a more holistic view of the RIA threat landscape. This cooperation is complimentary to what David Lenoe and Jeremy Dallman discussed on the Microsoft SDL blog detailing how Adobe and Microsoft are working together to protect our customers.
As part of the lead up to the presentation, I posted a blog describing some of my research on cross-domain threats. During the conference, I will expand upon this research detailing how improperly combining different types and classifications of cross-domain permissions can lead to increased security risk. The research has already caught the attention of Bryan Sullivan of Microsoft’s SDL team who assists in the development of Microsoft’s cross-domain SDL requirements. I plan to meet up with Bryan at the conference to share ideas on advancing the cross-domain SDL.
One of the advantages of collaborating with the Microsoft Silverlight team is that it allows us to see the overall threat landscape from two different perspectives. A more accurate view increases the ability for all vendors to better protect our customers. The talk will also cover the commonalities and subtle differences between different RIA technologies. Demonstrating the commonalities between platforms makes it easier to communicate risks to developers who may be implementing a mix of technologies. Overall, this has been an interesting process and we will post additional information after the conference.

In a crisis, communication is key

Peleus here. I focus most of my energy working with the Flash Player and AIR teams. The first half of the year had been fairly uneventful for Flash Player with only a small number of responsibly disclosed vulnerabilities reported over the last few months. The break was welcome and allowed us to focus on the more strategic security tasks that we don’t always blog about, but are still important parts of the Adobe Secure Product Lifecycle.
Unfortunately, nothing lasts forever and the last few weeks have been very busy for the Adobe Secure Software Engineering Team. We had to snap back into action on July 10th to handle the first of two different externally reported vulnerabilities that we ended up patching in Flash Player on July 30th.  First, Microsoft notified us of a flaw in their ATL library that had the potential to affect many of Adobe’s products.  The entire ASSET team mobilized to quickly identify which of Adobe’s over 200 products might be vulnerable.  Fortunately for us, the MSVR team at Microsoft was well organized. They were able to share info early on that helped to speed the triage effort inside Adobe.  We were able to identify and fix two vulnerable products (Shockwave and Flash Player) and confirm that many other widely distributed products like Adobe Reader and Connect Pro were NOT vulnerable. We also provided continual feedback into the Microsoft process that they could then, in turn, share with other partners.
Once the triage process for the ATL vulnerability was well under way we received a sample of a new attack in the wild against the Flash Player library within Reader. Although there are reports Adobe had known about this bug for eight months, the reality is that the July 16th report to the Product Security Incident Response Team (PSIRT) was the first time Adobe evaluated the bug as a security issue. The 12/31/08 bug was not caught as a security bug, so our usual Incident Response process was never initiated.
Flash is at the core of many of Adobe’s flagship products and this simultaneous patch effort required coordination between Reader, Flash Player and the AIR development teams.  This is no small task when you consider that we need to distribute reliable patches to over 90% of the Internet and support multiple versions of each product across multiple versions of the Windows, Macintosh and UNIX operating systems. Granted, we have been doing this for some time so we have automation in place to make the technical processes efficient and accurate. However, we still needed the Flash team to coordinate the creation of the patch and provide guidance to the Reader and AIR teams on adopting the solution. One mis-step in coordination could mean that the testing process starts all over again for each of the products resulting in a delay in the patch for our customers.
Since some of these products are among the most widely distributed software on Earth we used every available resource to get software updates out as soon as we could. We managed to execute a plan for updating Shockwave, Flash Player, AIR, Adobe Reader and Acrobat, all before the end of the month.
In addition to the tremendous amount of internal coordination required, PSIRT also managed the external aspects of the Adobe response. This included communicating with CERTs and other partners in the security ecosystem, creating CVE’s, issuing bulletins and advisories, and responding to customers and media inquiries.  Each notification requires attention to detail so that we provide useful information, but not so much that we put more customers at risk.  As with all major incidents, PSIRT is at the center of balancing the needs of Adobe’s customers, security researchers, product teams, partners and Adobe as a whole.
I recently read a
ZDNet Zero Day blog by George Stathakopoulos talking about coordination within the security community and it’s a common theme in my conversations with friends in the security community.  Our coordination with Microsoft on the ATL header vulnerability was definitely key to being ready in time for their release date.  In addition, coordination within Adobe was critical to shipping four products within the same week, all while balancing the needs of both external and internal stakeholders.  We hosted daily security meetings that leveraged Adobe Connect Pro as a 24/7 virtual war room where we could post the latest information, record IM conversations and track issues.  We used Buzzword for collaborative authoring our PSIRT blog posts, Advisories, and Bulletins that are key to communicating our progress with customers and the security ecosystem.  Overall, situations like these highlight the need for security professionals to truly be a community. With all the technological solutions and formal processes we have at our disposal for creating secure products, we sometimes forget how important the little things like communication are to security.

Investing in the community

Peleus here. Within Adobe, we do all that we can to secure our products, however, we can’t do everything on our own. Cooperation with the security community is essential to ensuring secure deployment of our products by our customers. Over the last year, Adobe has taken several measures to better interact with the security ecosystem including assisting groups such as OWASP, sponsoring conferences such as ShmooCon and CanSecWest, and building relationships with vendors and consultants. Our recent work with vendors to supply solutions for deploying SWF content securely is one example of these projects.
Coming out of the consulting world, I understood the challenges in analyzing a web site based on the Flash Platform. Although there were some basic tools and a handful of people with the appropriate knowledge, it was clear that more could be done. To solve this multi-faceted issue Adobe would need the assistance of the security community. From our end, we have been increasing our security documentation for developers, such as our Creating more secure SWF applications article, however, documentation can only go so far. We also needed to build alliances with vendors in the industry to help deliver the tools necessary to analyze production code.
This week, HP has stepped up to assist Flash developers by providing a free static analysis tool called SWFScan. SWFScan is able to perform static analysis on SWF content to identify common coding errors that can lead to vulnerabilities once the SWF is deployed. This allows developers to identify vulnerabilities earlier in the development cycle. Consultants who do not have access to source code can also leverage SWFScan to perform offline analysis of content by using it to decompile SWFs. SWFScan will work with ActionScript 2.0 and ActionScript 3.0 code and is free for everyone to use.
Last month, IBM launched AppScan 7.8 which can dynamically evaluate SWF content and perform penetration testing on a web site. Their tool is targeted at enterprise customers and allows users to enumerate flaws during the quality assurance phase of development. While static analysis can find many flaws, it is also important to analyze a SWF within the full context of its deployment. AppScan can monitor the SWF as it executes to identify flaws within the SWF’s run-time interactions with existing content as well as server communications through protocols such as AMF.
Both tools fit together nicely by allowing for security analysis at both the implementation and quality assurance phases of development. With these tools from HP and IBM, in addition to the work that Adobe does to help secure Flash Player and improve security documentation, our customers now have a more complete solution for deploying SWF content securely.
Within ASSET, we always try to examine the security of our products from as holistic a view as possible. Therefore, Adobe will continue to work with these and other vendors in the security community to bring together solutions that will help customers safely deploy our products and allow end-users to safely interact with them.

We Care

Recently, when speaking with a few researchers about why they did not report vulnerabilities to Adobe, we have heard a few variations of, “I didn’t think Adobe would care.” Those responses were disappointing to the Adobe Secure Software Engineering Team (ASSET) and it was clear that Adobe needed to do more to reach out to security community and be transparent in our efforts to protect customers. ASSET strives to improve the Secure Development Lifecycle within Adobe for all products, coordinate the Adobe Product Security Incident Response Team (PSIRT) and perform security community outreach activities. Those comments indicated that Adobe needed to do more with regards to communicating the activities of ASSET to the external community. This blog is one of the methods we will use to achieve that goal.
Adobe has taken significant proactive measures to improve the security of our products over the last few years and we plan to continue to build upon that foundation moving forward. Through this blog we hope to communicate what we have achieved and where our customers can expect us to be in the future. We will be providing specific details on the current status of our individual security programs within Adobe in upcoming posts. However, to set the scene, let’s take a quick look back on the last year that led to where we are today.
First, it is very clear to Adobe that we are receiving increased attention from the security community. Adobe has been responding to this increased attention over the course of the last year by proactively investing in both internal and external security measures to further protect our customers. We have added several new people to our team including Brad Arkin who recently joined Adobe in the new role of Director of Product Security and Privacy within Adobe. For additional support internally, we have increased our efforts in disseminating security information, tools and resources to the individual product teams. One example of this effort includes our recent initiative to expand the library of online security training modules as part of a broader set of education programs for developers and quality engineering. For the external community, we have also contributed towards making more security information available to the customers who deploy our products in order to assist developers and administrators in implementing best practices with our software.
The current focus on Adobe products from the security community has also lead to an increased number of reported security issues. To that end, Adobe has become more aggressive in responding to external security incidents. One recent example was the clickjacking issue reported to us by Robert Hansen and Jeremiah Grossman. Adobe responded by implementing a cross-platform, cross-browser patch within weeks of notification. And while the complexities of the many environments our products run on can sometimes prevent us from responding as quickly to other reported issues, this specific example helped to raise the bar for what we can achieve and what we want to work towards in the future. For researchers who find issues with our products, you should know that Adobe follows industry standard responsible disclosure practices and we will give credit to all researchers who follow that process when reporting vulnerabilities.
These are just a few of the steps that Adobe and ASSET has taken to improve the security of our products and services. This blog will help describe in more detail how moving forward we plan to improve in each area of the security lifecycle. By publishing information on our security development lifecycle, we hope to convey to our customers Adobe’s efforts to ensure the security of their infrastructures. In addition, it is our hope that the information we provide about the lessons we’ve learned during these processes can help to further the industry. In short, we care.