Category Archives: Security

aka infosec

Java 8 Update 171 (8u171)

The only major browser that still officially supports Java is Internet Explorer, although there are workarounds for some of the other browsers. For example, you can switch to Firefox ESR (Extended Support Release), but even that support is likely to disappear before long. Google Chrome, and other browsers that use the same engine, can only be made to show Java content by installing an extension that runs Internet Explorer in a tab.

Java’s impact on security is diminishing, but it’s still being used on older systems where upgrading to newer O/S versions is not possible. There are still a lot of Windows XP systems out there, and most of them are either running older versions of Internet Explorer or Firefox ESR.

If you’re still using Java, you should install the latest version, Java 8 Update 171 (8u171), as soon as possible. The easiest way to check which version you’re running and install any available updates is to visit Oracle’s ‘Verify Java’ page. You’ll need to do that with a Java-enabled browser. Another option is to visit the third-party Java Tester site. Again, this site won’t work unless Java is enabled.

Java 8 Update 171 includes fixes for fourteen security vulnerabilities. Other changes are documented in the Java 8 release notes and the Java 8u171 bug fixes page.

Chrome 66.0.3359.117 released

The latest version of Google Chrome includes sixty-two security fixes, and a limited trial of a new feature called Site Isolation that should help to reduce the risk from Spectre-related vulnerabilities.

The change log for Chrome 66.0.3359.117 is another whopper, listing over ten thousand changes in total.

Check your version of Chrome by clicking the three-vertical-dots menu button at the top right, and selecting Help > About Google Chrome. Doing that will usually trigger an update if one is pending.

Patch Tuesday for April 2018

Microsoft’s contribution to our monthly headache starts with a post on the TechNet MSRC blog: April 2018 security update release. This brief page consists of the same boilerplate we get every month, and provides no details at all. We’re informed that “information about this month’s security updates can be found in the Security Update Guide” but there isn’t even a link to the SUG.

Analysis of the SUG for this month’s Microsoft updates shows that there are sixty updates, addressing sixty-eight vulnerabilities in Flash, Excel, Word, and other Office components, Internet Explorer, Edge, Windows, and Defender. Twenty-three of the vulnerabilities are flagged as Critical.

If your Windows computer is not configured for automatic updates, you’ll need to use Windows Update in the Control Panel to install them.


Adobe’s offering for this month’s patching fun is a new version of Flash Player: 29.0.0.140 (APSB18-08). Six security vulnerabilities — three flagged as Critical — are fixed in the new version.

If you’re using a web browser with Flash enabled, you should install Flash 29.0.0.140 as soon as possible. The embedded Flash used in Internet Explorer 11 and Edge on newer versions of Windows will get the new version via Windows Update. Chrome’s embedded Flash will be updated via Chrome’s automatic update system. To update the desktop version of Flash, visit the About Flash page.

Firefox 59 released

Firefox 59 features performance and user interface improvements, as well as numerous other minor changes. At least eighteen security issues are fixed in the new version.

Particularly welcome are new Privacy and Security settings (Menu > Options > Privacy & Security) that will stop websites from asking to send notifications.

Note: Windows 7 users may have trouble using certain Windows accessibility features, such as the on-screen keyboard, when Firefox 59 is installed. Mozilla is working on a fix for this issue.

Update: Firefox 59.0.1 is also now available. It fixes a single security bug.

Flash 29.0.0.113

Adobe logoA new version of Flash, released on March 13 by Adobe, fixes two security vulnerabilities as well as a few other bugs.

If you use a browser with Flash enabled, you should update it as soon as possible. Most browsers no longer play Flash content automatically, or at least have options to make Flash content play only when explicitly allowed. Still, it’s best to be up to date if you use Flash at all.

Internet Explorer and Edge will get their Flash updates via Windows Update, and Google Chrome will update itself on its own mysterious schedule. You can force the issue by visiting the main Flash download page, or the About Flash page, which will prompt you to update if you’re not running the latest version. Don’t forget to disable installation of any additional software, including McAfee security products.

You can find more details in the release announcement, release notes, and the associated security bulletin.

Microsoft updates for March

I count forty-seven separate bulletins in this month’s batch of updates, which means there are roughly that same number of updates. Over seventy security vulnerabilities in Windows, Internet Explorer, Edge, Office, and .NET are addressed in the updates. There’s a Flash update in there as well, for Edge and recent versions of Internet Explorer.

This month we also get more fixes for Spectre and Meltdown, including firmware updates for somewhat older processors (Skylake, Kaby Lake, and Coffee Lake). There’s still not much available for processors that are more than a few years old.

While Microsoft continues to push people to enable automatic updates, the more cautious among us (including myself) prefer to control what is updated and when. Windows 10 users still have effectively no control over Windows updates.

You can extract additional details for this month’s updates from Microsoft’s Security Update Guide.

Adobe Acrobat Reader updates

Adobe logoFirst, a few words about nomenclature…

Acrobat Reader is the name of Adobe’s free PDF viewer software. It was formerly referred to as Adobe Reader, but its full official name is now Adobe Acrobat Reader. It’s basically a stripped-down version of Acrobat, Adobe’s commercial PDF authoring tool, with most of Acrobat’s authoring capabilities removed. Acrobat Reader is free software, while Acrobat is not. If you need to author new PDF files, you need Acrobat. If you merely wish to view existing PDF files, all you need is Acrobat Reader, although Acrobat also does that.

At one point, there was only one version of Acrobat and one corresponding version of Reader. Sadly, those simpler days ended in 2015 when Adobe introduced ‘Document Cloud’ (DC) variations: Acrobat DC and Acrobat Reader DC. These new variants include cloud storage capabilities, making PDF viewing and editing more convenient for folks who work on multiple computers and platforms.

Confusing things further was a new split in the Acrobat/Reader catalog, between Continuous and Classic release tracks. They differ mainly in release priorities and update schedules. Classic variants are updated quarterly, and occasionally at other times; updates are limited to bug and security fixes. Continuous variants are updated more frequently, and besides bug and security fixes, updates include new features and enhancements.

On October 15, 2017, Adobe stopped producing the original Acrobat/Reader software in favour of the new Acrobat/Reader DC. The old software’s last version was 11.0.23. Adobe now officially recommends the DC variants over anything else. This should have simplified things, and it did, to some extent.

Adobe is also still making desktop-only versions of Acrobat and Acrobat Reader, which they refer to as Acrobat 2017 and Acrobat Reader 2017.

There’s more headache-inducing details on the Document Cloud Product Tracks page on the Adobe web site.

Which one?

Okay, so which version of Acrobat Reader do I install if I just want to view PDF files? For regular folks, it’s easiest to just stick with what Adobe wants you to use, which in most cases is Acrobat Reader DC (Continuous). The desktop-only version and the DC Classic versions exist mostly for IT staff who have very specific reasons for not wanting to run DC Continuous. For them, it comes down to a choice between having access to the latest features, and being somewhat less likely to encounter problems. For example, if ‘stable and secure’ is the goal, Acrobat Reader DC Classic Track is the right choice.

February 2018 updates

With that out of the way, let’s talk about the new versions of Acrobat Reader that were released earlier this week.

A February 13 security bulletin from Adobe lists forty-one vulnerabilities, affecting earlier versions of all Acrobat Reader variants, including Acrobat Reader DC (Continuous Track) 2018.009.20050, Acrobat Reader 2017 2017.011.30070, and Acrobat Reader DC (Classic Track) 2015.006.30394.

New Acrobat Reader versions addressing those vulnerabilities are:

Acrobat Reader DC (Continuous Track) 2018.011.20035
Acrobat Reader DC (Classic Track) 2015.006.30413
Acrobat Reader 2017 2017.011.30078

There are additional details on the main release notes page for Acrobat and Acrobat Reader.

You can install Acrobat Reader by visiting the official download page at get.adobe.com/reader. That page will offer the version it thinks is best suited to your device, which for my Windows 8.1 PC is Acrobat Reader DC (Continuous Track) version 2018.011.20035. That’s also the version Adobe wants us all to use.

If you want a variant other than the one offered in the Download Center, you’ll have to navigate Adobe’s labyrinthine FTP site.

To install Acrobat Reader 2017 for Windows, go to the Acrobat2017 folder on the Adobe FTP site. Click the topmost folder, then click the installer EXE file in that folder to download it. Once installed, Acrobat Reader 2017 will keep itself updated, and you can check for any pending updates by selecting Help > Check for updates on its menu.

To install Acrobat Reader DC Classic for Windows, go to the Acrobat2015 folder on the Adobe FTP site. Click the topmost folder, then click the installer EXE file in that folder to download it. Once installed, Acrobat Reader DC Classic will keep itself updated, and you can check for any pending updates by selecting Help > Check for updates on its menu.