Skip the navigation

Symantec backs off claim, says current Flash Player safe from attack

Adobe urges users to update to Flash 9.0.124.0

May 29, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Symantec Corp. today said that "suspicious behavior" by a captured exploit had led it to mistakenly conclude that the most up-to-date stand-alone versions of Adobe System Inc.'s Flash Player are vulnerable to ongoing attacks from Chinese servers.

But a Symantec researcher said earlier today that Flash Player 9.0.124.0, the currently available version of the popular multimedia player, is not vulnerable to the ongoing attacks. Just yesterday, Ben Greenbaum, a senior research manager in Symantec's security response group, had claimed that while Flash Player 9.0.124.0 plug-ins were safe, stand-alone editions of the program were not.

"All versions of Version 9.0.124.0 on all platforms, plug-ins and stand-alone, are not vulnerable," Greenbaum said today.

The switch was the third change in Symantec's analysis in the past two days.

On Tuesday, Symantec first warned that legitimate Web sites were redirecting unwitting users to one of several Chinese servers, which in turn were trying multiple exploits, including some aimed at Flash Player. Then, Symantec said that older versions of the Adobe software -- version 9.0.115.0, which was replaced in early April -- and the current 9.0.124.0 could be successfully exploited.

Based on that analysis, Symantec dubbed the vulnerability a "zero-day" bug, meaning it was unpatched, and a threat to anyone with Flash installed.

Later on Tuesday, however, Symantec backtracked from the zero-day label. "Originally, it was believed that this issue was unpatched and unknown, but further technical analysis has revealed that it is very similar to the previously reported Adobe Flash Player Multimedia File Remote Buffer Overflow Vulnerability (BID 28695), discovered by Mark Dowd of IBM," Symantec said.

Even so, Greenbaum maintained yesterday that while the vulnerability wasn't new, the in-the-wild exploit was effective against stand-alone versions of Flash Player 9.0.124.0. "Not all the versions are patched correctly," he said Wednesday.

Today, however, Greenbaum said that Symantec had come to the erroneous conclusion based on tests of the stand-alone Linux version of Flash Player 9.0.124.0. "While testing against the latest [Linux] version, we saw behaviors consistent with a successful exploit that failed to deliver the payload," he explained today. "[But] the exploit was not, in fact, successful against the latest version."

In a follow-up e-mail, a Symantec spokesman spelled it out in more technical detail. "The latest Linux player, when used to open the exploit file, would abruptly exit silently," said the spokesman. "Stack analysis revealed several internally handled segmentation faults, which is not normally desired behavior for a program." That behavior, in fact, is often a sign of a successful exploit that then uses incorrect offsets or payload code, he added.

"Further research was unable to produce a successful full exploitation, and Adobe confirmed that what we had observed was in fact expected and by design," the spokesman said.

Related Blog

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols:
Honest technology executives

For its part, Adobe stuck to its Wednesday claim that the current Flash Player 9.0.124.0 is not vulnerable. "This exploit does not appear to include a new, unpatched vulnerability as has been reported elsewhere," said Adobe spokesman Mark Rozen. "Customers with Flash Player 9.0.124.0 should not be vulnerable to this exploit."

Greenbaum said that spurious results on Windows test systems had also contributed to Symantec's claims that some versions of 9.0.124.0 were at risk. "We were also seeing compromises on the Windows side," he admitted, "on the latest version of Flash that we downloaded from Adobe's site." Later, Symantec's researchers realized that they had not downloaded an additional patch; when they did and retested, they found the Windows edition to be safe.

"We apologize for the confusion," said Greenbaum. But he defended the analysis, noting that changing updates are common in the security trade as researchers spend more time investigating a problem.

Adobe has recommended that Flash users double-check the version they're running and update to 9.0.124.0 if necessary. Adobe maintains a Web page devoted to Flash Player that displays the current plug-in version from any browser. Users, however, must run the check for each installed browser.

Read more about Security in Computerworld's Security Topic Center.



Our Commenting Policies