Research in Motion Issues Fix for Blackberry PDF Bug

Research in Motion Ltd., maker of the popular BlackBerry handset, on Friday issued a patch to plug a vulnerability in its BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) solution. The vulnerability could allow hackers to enter into a network via a maliciously crafted PDF file.

The hotfix was distributed via a cluster of updates to BES systems. It's designed to remedy a bug in the PDF distiller function of BlackBerry's attachment mechanism, which enables users to open up documents from the mobile device.

The exploit enabled a remote code execution attack if the user opened up corrupt Adobe or other PDF-type files.

Research in Motion's advisory proposes that network administrators working within a Windows enterprise environment update to BES Version 4.1, Service Pack 6 for Microsoft's Exchange Server.

Using the new patch is much safer than relying on workarounds, according to one network security expert reacting to the news. For instance, relying on updating the BlackBerry Unite software -- an application that can be loaded onto the handset to detect and clean potentially infected files -- isn't the most optimal solution.

"It looks like they [Research in Motion] may have solved the problem for now by what they did [on Friday] because it's very tricky to sanitize these files on the client side," said Kevin Gillis, vice president of product management for IPswitch, a network monitoring, file transfer and messaging software firm in Lexington, Mass. "It's much better to do it on the server side so that the carrier-class scanner is more effective in this case."

Gillis added that the bigger issue now for companies will be reacting to the downtime that may have been caused by putting a temporary moratorium on sending PDFs via the handset, as some enterprises may have done while awaiting the patch.

"You have people sending presentations, graphs and charts all the time over these phones and while the problem is serious enough to wipe out the devices' whole memory storage, I think this is a reminder of why disaster recovery solutions and best practices are important too," he said.

About the Author

Jabulani Leffall is a business consultant and an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in the Financial Times of London, Investor's Business Daily, The Economist and CFO Magazine, among others. He consulted for Deloitte & Touche LLP and was a business and world affairs commentator on ABC and CNN.

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