Adobe patched 29 vulnerabilities in Reader, it's PDF viewer, and 13 more in Flash, the popular web media browser plug-in, as part of an even larger quarterly security update.
It was the first time that Adobe patched Reader X, the upgrade it issued last November that includes a 'sandbox' anti-exploit technology in the Windows version.
Nearly all the Reader bugs were rated 'critical', meaning that they could be exploited by attackers to plant malware on an unpatched system, although for several, Adobe wasn't certain that remote code execution was possible. Two of the 29 could lead to cross-site scripting (XSS) attacks, a common tactic by identity thieves who target browsers.
Hackers could exploit one of the vulnerabilities - a Windows-only flaw - to gain additional privileges on a machine.
Almost half of the bugs were in Reader's font-, image- or 3-D file-parsing code, Adobe said in the advisory it issued. The updates brought Reader to versions 8.2.6, 9.4.2, an 10.0.1 for Windows and Mac OS X. Linux users must wait until February 28, however, when Adobe will follow with fixes for the Reader edition that works on that operating system.
All but three of the bugs affected Reader X, the upgrade Adobe launched to some fanfare three months ago. The Windows version of Reader X includes a sandbox, technology that isolates the application from the computer to stop, or at least hinder, attack code from escaping Reader to wreak havoc on the system as a whole.
Reader X's sandbox is based on technologies used by Google and Microsoft. The former sandboxes its Chrome browser, for example, while the latter uses similar defences to protect Internet Explorer and Office 2010 on Windows.
None of the 26 bugs that impact Reader X are in its sandbox and so cannot be used to bypass its protection, an Adobe spokeswoman confirmed.
Adobe last updated Reader in mid-November to patch a bug that was had been in play for several weeks prior.
The company also updated Flash Tuesday to patch 13 different vulnerabilities, all labeled critical because they could be exploited to execute attack code. Adobe said eight of the 13 were memory corruption flaws, while others were library loading, integer overflow or font parsing bugs. Flash reached version 10.2.152.26 with the security update.
As has been the case for nearly a year, users of Google's Chrome received the new version of Flash in an update to the browser, which Google also issued this week.
Adobe delivered security updates to ColdFusion and Shockwave as well. ColdFusion is Adobe's enterprise-grade Web application server software, and Shockwave remains a popular player for animated web content.
"It almost seemed like Adobe had their patch cycle for a change," said Andrew Storms, director of security operations for nCircle Security. "I was surprised by the coordination."
That co-ordination may have been a one-time deal, Adobe said, because only Reader, and its for-a-fee cousin Acrobat, are patched on a regular schedule.
"That said, we try to schedule security updates for other products on Patch Tuesdays whenever possible, said Adobe spokeswoman Wiebke Lips. "In this case, the Patch Tuesday timing worked for Flash Player, ColdFusion and Shockwave Player as well."
But while Storms applauded the one-day update for several Adobe lines, he pointed out that the company continues to offer only all-or-nothing security updates, unlike Microsoft, which separates its patches into numerous bulletins that users can deploy, or not, as they see fit.
"It's a take it or leave kind of thing, it's very black and white," said Storms. "Pretty much everything is remote code and we have no details to provide insight or decent mitigation if you have to hold off for some reason or another."
In that regard, Adobe's security updates are more like Apple's than Microsoft's.
"The only difference is that with Adobe we know when the lunch lady is going to be serving it up," said Storms, referring to Adobe's practice of scheduling regular updates, something Apple doesn't do.
Adobe Reader and Flash for Windows and Mac OS X can be downloaded using the links included the advisories. Alternately, Windows users can call up the programs' built-in update mechanisms to grab the new versions.