iDEFENSE Security Advisory 12.14.04 - Adobe Acrobat Reader 5.0.9 mailListIsPdf() Buffer Overflow Vulnerability

Type securityvulns
Reporter Securityvulns
Modified 2004-12-15T00:00:00


Adobe Acrobat Reader 5.0.9 mailListIsPdf() Buffer Overflow Vulnerability

iDEFENSE Security Advisory 12.14.04 December 14, 2004


Adobe Acrobat Reader is a program for viewing Portable Document Format (PDF) documents. More information is available at the following site:


Remote exploitation of a buffer overflow in version 5.09 of Adobe Acrobat Reader for Unix could allow for execution of arbitrary code.

The vulnerability specifically exists in a the function mailListIsPdf().

This function checks if the input file is an email message containing a PDF. It unsafely copies user supplied data using strcat into a fixed sized buffer.


Successful exploitation allows an attacker to execute arbitrary code under the privileges of the local user. Remote exploitation is possible by sending a specially crafted e-mail and attaching either the maliciously crafted PDF document or a link to it.


iDEFENSE has confirmed the existence of this vulnerability in Adobe Acrobat Reader version 5.0.9 for Unix. Previous versions of Adobe Acrobat Reader 5 for Unix are suspected also to be vulnerable.


User awareness is the best defense against this class of attack. Users should be aware of the existence of such attacks and proceed with caution when following links from suspicious and/or unsolicited e-mail.

Additionally, you may wish to apply the following unofficial patch from iDEFENSE Labs to the acroread shell script. The acroread shell script calls the appropriate binary for the platform. The patch adds a check that ensures that files passed as arguments to acroread are in fact PDF documents. This patch will not protect against files opened from within the Acrobat Reader GUI.

The bin/ directory of the application contains an 'acroread' shell script while the Reader/ directory contains a binary with the same name. The command 'file acroread', when executed in the same directory as the shell script, should return the line:

acroread: a /bin/sh script text executable

This result indicates the existence of the appropriate file that the patch below can be applied to.


--- acroread.orig 2004-10-13 17:25:57.000000000 -0400 +++ acroread 2004-10-13 17:55:43.000000000 -0400 @@ -309,6 +309,16 @@ fi

if [ -f "$ACRO_EXEC_CMD" ] ; then + for CHECK in ${1+"$@"}; + do + [ -f "$CHECK" ] && { + file "$CHECK" | grep "PDF document" || \ + { + echo "$CHECK" exists, but is not a PDF document. + exit 1; + } + } + done exec "$ACRO_EXEC_CMD" ${1+"$@"} else echo "ERROR: Cannot find $ACRO_EXEC_CMD"


This vulnerability is fixed in Adobe Acrobat Reader 5.0.10 for Unix. Further details of the vulnerability are available in the following knowledgebase article:


The Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) project has assigned the name CAN-2004-1152 to this issue. This is a candidate for inclusion in the CVE list (, which standardizes names for security problems.


10/14/2004 Initial vendor notification 10/15/2004 Initial vendor response 12/14/2004 Coordinated public disclosure


This vulnerability was discovered by Greg MacManus, iDEFENSE Labs.

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Copyright (c) 2004 iDEFENSE, Inc.

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