Adobe launches sandboxed Flash Player for Firefox, hopes for fewer exploits

Adobe has launched a beta version of Flash Player for Firefox that uses sandboxing technology to prevent exploits

Adobe has released a beta version of Flash Player for Firefox, which has better protection against vulnerability exploits because of a new sandboxed architecture.

"The design of this sandbox is similar to what Adobe delivered with Adobe Reader X Protected Mode and follows the same Practical Windows Sandboxing approach," said Peleus Uhley, platform security strategist at Adobe, in a blog post on Monday. "Like the Adobe Reader X sandbox, Flash Player will establish a low integrity, highly restricted process that must communicate through a broker to limit its privileged activities."

In secure software development, sandboxing refers to the practice of isolating a process from the operating system in order to minimize the fallout of a potential exploit. This type of technology has gained popularity in recent years, primarily because of its use in Google Chrome, a browser that has never experienced a successful remote code execution attack so far.

Adobe decided to implement sandboxing in Adobe Reader back in 2010 in order to counter the large number of exploits that targeted the product and its users. The technology was built into Adobe Reader X (10.0) and is based on the same sandboxing principles that Google used when developing Chrome.

Later that same year Adobe also launched a sandboxed version of Flash Player for Chrome and promised to explore the possibility of doing the same for other browsers. The new sandboxed Flash Player for Firefox, which works with Windows Vista and Windows 7, is the result of those efforts.

Critical Flash Player vulnerabilities have regularly been exploited to infect computers with malware during the past several years. Along with Java and Adobe Reader, Flash Player is one of the most attacked software applications, because its vulnerabilities can usually be exploited by simply visiting a malicious website.

"Since its launch in November 2010, we have not seen a single successful exploit in the wild against Adobe Reader X," Uhley said. "We hope to see similar results with the Flash Player sandbox for Firefox once the final version is released later this year."

However, the success of this version at deterring cybercriminals from writing Flash Player exploits in the future will largely depend on how quickly it gets adopted. In order to speed up the process, Adobe is working on a new update mechanism, the company's senior manager for corporate communications, Wiebke Lips, said.

Having a sandboxed version of Flash Player for every major browser, not just Chrome and Firefox, is also important, if Adobe wants cybercriminals to lose interest in its product. "We are currently in the process of researching the best path to provide Flash Player sandbox protection for Internet Explorer," Lips said.

However, because Internet Explorer has a completely different plug-in architecture than Chrome and Firefox, namely ActiveX, developing a sandboxed Flash Player version for it requires a different approach, Lips said. Nevertheless, the current version of Flash Player supports Protected Mode in Internet Explorer 7 or later on Windows Vista and Windows 7.

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