Adobe Rushes Out Emergency Patch For Critical Flash Player Vulnerability

Exploit, available in the wild, is being used in attacks against Windows users, company warns

As it has numerous times in the past, Adobe this week rushed out an emergency patch to fix a critical vulnerability in its Flash Player software that would have let attackers take complete control of a vulnerable system.

An exploit for the vulnerability is available in the wild and is already being used in attacks against users running Windows versions 7, 8.1 and 10, Adobe warned in an advisory Wednesday.

The company has released updates addressing the flaw in Adobe Flash Player for Windows, Linux, Macintosh and Chrome OS. 

The vulnerability exists in Adobe Flash Player versions 23.0.0.185 and earlier for Windows, Macintosh, Linux and Chrome OS. Also affected are versions 11.2.202.637 and earlier of Adobe Flash Player for Linux.

Adobe defines a critical vulnerability as any security flaw that if exploited would allow an attacker to run arbitrary code on a system without the user’s knowledge. In this case, the company described the flaw as a use-after-free vulnerability that could lead to remote code execution.

Use-after-free errors, according to the Open Web Application Security Project  (OWASP), are a class of security vulnerabilities involving the use of heap allocated memory space after it has been freed or deleted.

The use of such memory can result in error conditions and other unexpected behavior, ranging from data corruption to system crashes to arbitrary code execution, according to the OWASP.

Adobe credited Neel Mehta and Billy Leonard, two security researchers belonging to Google’s Threat Analysis Group, for discovering and reporting the flaw.

Emergency patch releases are not unusual at all for Adobe. At numerous times in the past few years, the company has been forced to rush out critical fixes for flaws and exploits in its products. Many of them have involved Flash Player, a product that over the years has acquired the unfortunate reputation of being one of the buggiest products currently in use.

Since October 2015, Adobe has issued 16 updates for multiple critical Flash Player vulnerabilities, several of which were out-of-cycle releases. The company’s security bulletins and advisories page shows that no other Adobe product has been patched quite as often as Flash Player.

In its Internet Security Threat Report released earlier this year Symantec noted how four of the five most widely exploited zero-day vulnerabilities last year were in Adobe Flash. In 2015, about 17 percent of all zero-days vulnerabilities that were discovered were in Adobe Flash and that was actually lower than the 50 percent of similar flaws it accounted for in 2014 and 22 percent in 2013, according to Symantec.

More than 30 of the 260 vulnerability advisories that are pending disclosure from Tipping Point’s Zero Day Initiative involve Adobe, though it is not clear how many of them are specific to Flash.

As Symantec noted in the report, multiple organizations including Google, Mozilla and Apple have voiced serious concerns over Adobe Flash, with Google saying it will drop native support for the technology in Chrome this year.

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Jai Vijayan is a seasoned technology reporter with over 20 years of experience in IT trade journalism. He was most recently a Senior Editor at Computerworld, where he covered information security and data privacy issues for the publication. Over the course of his 20-year … View Full Bio

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