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The beginning of the New Year is continuing its string of vulnerability notices as the Foxit Reader, a PDF viewer application often used as an alternative to the Adobe Reader, contains a critical vulnerability in its browser plug-in component.

An attacker can take advantage of the vulnerability to execute arbitrary code on computers, security researchers said.

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Details about the vulnerability and how it can suffer from exploitation came out last week from by Andrea Micalizzi, an independent security researcher from Italy.

There is currently no official patch for the issue, according to an advisory from vulnerability intelligence and management company Secunia. The security firm rated the remotely exploitable flaw as highly critical because and attacker could gain system access.

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Foxit’s developers have identified the cause of the vulnerability and are working on creating a patch, Foxit officials said. The patch should come out within one week, Foxit said.

“The vulnerability is caused due to a boundary error in the Foxit Reader plugin for browsers (npFoxitReaderPlugin.dll) when processing a URL and can be exploited to cause a stack-based buffer overflow via e.g. an overly long file name in the URL,” Secunia said. “Successful exploitation allows execution of arbitrary code.”

The vulnerability is in npFoxitReaderPlugin.dll version, installed by Foxit Reader — the latest version of the program. However, older versions might also suffer from the issue, Secunia said.

By default, Foxit Reader installs the plug-in for Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Opera and Safari Web browsers.

In the past, some security wags said Foxit Reader was a more secure and less attacked alternative to Adobe Reader. In fact, Foxit, the company that develops the application, claims on its website Foxit Reader is “the most secure PDF reader” and is “better than Adobe PDF Reader and Acrobat.” According to the company, over 130 million people use the program.

“We have confirmed the vulnerability using Firefox, Opera, and Safari,” Chaitanya Sharma, advisory team lead at Secunia, said Thursday. “At the moment the best mitigation is to disable this add-on in browsers and use other software e.g. Adobe Reader.”

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