It's a shampoo world anyway
Donnerstag, 4. Januar 2007

Browser add-on security (Part II): XSSed by Acrobat Reader

At the 23C3 Stefano Di Paola and Giorgio Fedon from OWASP Italy gave a talk on various methods to undermine the security of AJAX applications. Part of their presentation was the disclosure of an universal XSS (UXSS) problem with Adobe Acrobat reader in connection with Firefox: Acrobat reader supports "open parameter", a method to pass additional display information to a pdf that is served from a web server (e.g. to autofill some forms). Some of these parameters accept general URLs as input. In such a case the reader plug-in request the given URL and uses the received data to determine how the pdf should be displayed:

But if a javascript:-URL is used as part of the pdf's URL, Firefox executes this javascript in the context of the domain the pdf was received from:"document.cookie");

This results in creating a XSS problem in every single web application that host at least one pdf-file and that is accessed by a Firefox/Acrobat Reader combination (so approx. 10% of all browsers). Autsch.

Here ar some links for further information:

Adobe patched the problem with Acrobat Reader version 8.0.

Lessons learned:

This issue is an excellent example how third party add-ons can undermine the security of otherwise well audited web applications (like my finding on Greasemonkey scripts with the difference that the install-base of Acrobat Reader is a lot (!) bigger that the number of people using Greasemonkey).

Therefore, one advice to all developer and owner of web applications: All content that you serve from your application that is interpreted by a third party browser add-on may be subject to client-side XSS problems. As the cause for these problems lies within the browser add-on, there is few that can be done on the server side. For this reason all static non-html content (like pdfs, swfs, ...) should be served from a separate subdomain (e.g. If a client-side UXSS exists, only this subdomain is affected and the main application (hosted on is still safe.

An interesting side note: When i talked to Stefano and Giorgio at the 23C3 congress, it seemed as if they were under the impression that this was only a minor discovery compared to the memory corruption vulnerability they found in Acrobat reader. While this is somewhat true, their other discovery could lead to complete owning of the victim's computer, a UXSS in that magnitude simply was not discovered in the wild before. Cudos guys.

Update: It turned out that by accessing a pdf file from the local harddisc via the file:// protocol specifier, the attacker can also execute JavaScript inn the security context of the local computer, thus allowing the JavaScript access to private resources like e.g., local files.

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