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There is one battle to find vulnerabilities in software and then to issue a patch. With that accomplished, there is a huge hurdle to jump over, however, and that is to have the end user actually patch the vulnerability.

That line of thought comes into play as six out of every 10 users of Adobe Reader are running unpatched versions of the program, leaving them vulnerable to a variety of malware attacks, according to a new report.

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In a study of its own antivirus users, Avast Software found 60.2 percent of those with Adobe Reader were running a vulnerable version of the program, and 40 percent of users had the newest Adobe Reader X or patched the releases.

One out of every five users also had an unpatched version of Adobe Reader that was at least two generations old, the study said.

Cyber Security

Adobe Reader is the most popular PDF reader application and is a frequent target for malware writers. More than 80 percent of Avast users run a version of Adobe Reader.

“There is a basic assumption that people will automatically update or migrate to the newer version of any program,” said Ondrej Vlcek, CTO at Avast. “At least with Adobe Reader, this assumption is wrong — and it’s exposing users to a wide range of potential threats.”

“We find that most consumers don’t bother updating a free app, such as Adobe Reader, as PDF files can be viewed in the older version,” said Brad Arkin, senior director of product security and privacy at Adobe. “In many cases, users only update when provisioning a new machine.”

Malware PDF exploit packages will typically look for a variety of security weaknesses in the targeted computer, attacking when it discovers an uncovered vulnerability. “Most exploits have been made to hit all vulnerable versions, not just one,” Vlcek said. “Libraries of code are shared between various Adobe versions which also means that vulnerabilities are shared.” The Avast Virus Lab did not detect a causal link between older versions of Adobe Reader and exposure to malware.

“It is actually possible to be fully patched and up-to-date if you are running Adobe Reader 8 or 9,” Arkin said, “But I think a large percentage of users simply decline the update notification.”

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