Macromedia has warned of what it called a critical security flaw in the latest version of its Flash animation player and advised users to install a new version that it released on the Web to fix the problem.
The security flaw affects version 6 of the Macromedia Flash Player that was released a year ago this month and has been installed on an estimated 75 per cent of personal computers worldwide, according to the company.
The vulnerability affects the integrity of the player's "sandbox," which is supposed to act as a cordoned-off area where Flash code retrieved from the Web can be run safely, without access to a user's files.
The flaw could allow a malicious hacker to run native code on a user's computer, outside the sandbox, possibly without the user's knowledge, according to information on the company's Web site.
No users had reported having being affected by the problem as of Tuesday afternoon (Pacific Standard Time), Macromedia's recently-appointed chief security officer, Paul Madar, said. Nevertheless, the company advised users to download a new version of the player - version 188.8.131.52 - from its Web site immediately.
As well as fixing the latest vulnerability the new version served as a cumulative patch, fixing other security flaws reported since the product's release, including memory buffer overflows, Macromedia said. It also offered other tweaks intended to boost performance of the product.
The latest vulnerability was reported to the company about two months ago by an independent researcher, Madar said.
It took the company until now to fix the breach and to then test it across the various platforms that Flash Player runs on.
"It's not fixing the vulnerability (that takes time), it's the testing," he said. "The product is so widely distributed and you have to make sure that the fix you create doesn't break it or introduce a new security hole."
The vulnerability is a difficult one to exploit, Madar said, but he had a "healthy respect" for the hacker community and advised users to update to the new player immediately. The security bulletin, with a link to the download site, is at http://www.macromedia.com/v1/handlers/index.cfm?ID=23821
Madar said it was common for the company to issue a player upgrade rather than a simple patch to fix a security hole, since the whole product was relatively small to download.
Macromedia sought to assure users of the steps it had taken to make its products secure. These included hiring experts outside the company to run "penetration" tests on its products before they were released.
Macromedia has issued more than 15 security patches, bulletins and notifications over the past year, according to information on its Web site. It recently implemented a ranking system akin to that used by Microsoft and other software vendors, designating vulnerabilities as critical, important, moderate and low.
"The testing program finds many issues prior to product shipment. But while we strive to improve the program, we can still miss issues," Madar said.
Flash is the most popular format for creating animation for Web sites.
In December 2002 the free Flash Player had been installed on 98 per cent of personal computers worldwide - close to half a billion machines. About 75 per cent were running Flash Player 6, according to a survey conducted for Macromedia by research company NPD Online.