Adobe apologizes for 16-month-old Flash bug

Crash vulnerability 'slipped through the cracks,' admits company manager

Adobe Systems Inc. apologized over the weekend for letting a 16-month-old bug in Flash Player languish without a patch, even though it updated the popular plug-in four times since the flaw was reported.

The bug was fixed, said Adobe, in the beta of Flash Player 10.1, which was released last November. The final version of Flash Player 10.1, however, will not ship until later this year.

Security researcher Matthew Dempsky first reported the Flash vulnerability Sept. 22, 2008, according to Adobe's public bug tracking database. When exploited, the flaw causes Internet Explorer 6 and 7, and Firefox and Safari 3 to crash; in other browsers, the browser stays up while Flash Player goes down.

Although browser and plug-in crashes may seem relatively innocuous, they're valuable to attackers, who are often able to devise a way to inject malicious code after an application's crash, said Andrew Storms, director of security operations at nCircle Network Security Inc.

Dempsky has created a site that runs proof-of-concept attack code demonstrating the vulnerability. (Warning: The site will crash browsers equipped with current versions of Flash Player.)

Although the bug has been patched in Flash Player 10.1 Beta, it should have been fixed long before, an Adobe manager admitted Saturday. "The mistake we made was marking this bug for 'next' release, which is the soon-to-be-released Flash Player 10.1, instead of marking it for the next Flash Player 10 security dot release," said Emmy Huang, product manager for Flash Player, in a post to a company blog.

In the 16 months since Dempsky reported the bug, Adobe patched Flash Player four different times, once in late 2008, then again in February, July and December of 2009.

Huang's explanation was that Dempsky reported the crash bug in the lead up to the release of Flash Player 10. "Remember that Flash Player 10 shipped in October 2008, so when this bug was reported we were pretty much locked and loaded for launch," she said.

Even so, it was a snafu. "I intend to follow up with the product manager (or Adobe rep) who worked on this issue to make sure it doesn't happen again," Huang said. "It slipped through the cracks, and it is not something we take lightly."

Huang also called crash bugs, which some vendors dismiss as second-class vulnerabilities, "serious 'A' priority bugs," and added that Adobe's policy is that "ActionScript developers should never be able to crash Flash Player." ActionScript is the scripting language supported by Flash.

Flash Player 10.1 Beta 2, available for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux, includes the patch for Dempsky's crash bug; it can be downloaded from the Adobe Labs site.

An Adobe spokesman today declined to specify a release date for Flash Player 10.1, sticking to the company's earlier timeline of final version availability sometime in the first half of this year.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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