[NEWS] Implementation Flaws in Adobe Document Server for Reader Extensions
From: firstname.lastname@example.org To: email@example.com Date: 9 Mar 2003 19:36:14 +0200
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Implementation Flaws in Adobe Document Server for Reader Extensions
A vulnerability in the way Adobe Document Server encrypts parts of the
document allows an attacker to break the encryption, or alternatively
modify the document in such a way, as the signature (what displays whether
the document is in its original form, unmodified) remains valid even
though the document has been modified.
Adobe Document Server for Reader Extensions
With this server, customers can assign custom usage rights to specific
Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) forms and documents, so Acrobat
Reader 5.1 users can get access to additional features while working with
the document. The server can enable four types of usage rights on a PDF
- Commenting tools, including sticky notes, highlights, stamps, and
- The ability to save a form to a desktop for offline completion or
archiving, without loosing any forms data;
- Digital signatures, including support for Public Key Infrastructure
systems for third-party validation (VeriSign, Entrust, and others);
- Advanced form features, including the ability to submit a form offline
or via email, import or export forms data and attached files.
Description of Adobe Document Server for Reader Extensions features is
The implementation of Document Server for Reader Extensions does not seem
to be very complicated. The Server just gets the PDF file (to be
reader-enabled) together with the list of enabling options, and produces
new document that contains one additional dictionary - actually, simply by
adding an additional block of data.
Note: for details of PDF structure, see Portable Document Format
New dictionary is named "ViewerPreferences" and resides within document's
"Root" dictionary. For now, only one element is placed inside
"ViewerPreferences" dictionary - "Rights" Dictionary. Content of the
"Rights" Dictionary can be described as follows (key name, type, and
"Version" (number): A number specifying the version of Rights dictionary.
Currently only version 1 is supported.
"Document" (array of names): List of flags related to Document operations.
Currently only one flag is supported: FullSave.
"Form" (array of names): List of flags related to Form processing.
Supported flags: Import, Export, SubmitStandalone, SpawnTemplate.
"Annots" (array of names): List of flags related to Annotations. Supported
flags: Create, Delete, Modify, Copy, Import, Export.
"Signature" (array of names): List of flags related to Digital Signature
handling. Currently only one flag is supported: Modify.
"Msg" (text string): Arbitrary string to be displayed in "Instructions"
box when reader-enabled document is opened in Acrobat Reader 5.1.
"TimeOfUbiquitization" (date): The date and time when document was
processed by Document Server for Reader Extensions.
"RightsID" or "ADBE_RightsID" (array): List of RSA-based digital
signatures for checking integrity of reader-enabling attributes.
Most elements listed in the table above are self-descriptive. Name of the
last key could be either RightsID or ADBE_RightsID - they are equivalent
in Reader 5.1. Values in RightsID (or ADBE_RightsID) array are 512-bit
RSA-encrypted values, and could be decrypted with RSA Public Key, which is
hard-coded (in encrypted form) within Reader 5.1 executable. Those values
are used as digital signatures of some critical document parts to make
sure that document was reader-enabled with Adobe Document Server for
Sample form with additional usage rights could be downloaded from
According to press release from October 21, 2002, available at
<http://www.adobe.com/aboutadobe/pressroom/pressreleases/pdfs/200210/20021021Ubiquity.pdf> http://www.adobe.com/aboutadobe/pressroom/pressreleases/pdfs/200210/20021021Ubiquity.pdf, pricing of Adobe Document Server for Reader Extensions starts at US$75,000.
Adobe Acrobat Reader
Adobe Acrobat Reader is the most popular part of Adobe Acrobat product
family. Acrobat Reader is free and can be downloaded from Adobe Systems
Incorporated web site
Other most interesting (for this statement) products from Adobe Acrobat
family are commercial Adobe Acrobat ($249) and Adobe Acrobat Approval
($39). Comparison of the free Acrobat Reader 5.1 with Acrobat 5.0 and
Acrobat Approval could be found at Planet PDF web site:
For a long time Acrobat Reader was just "the reader" - its ability of
editing was limited to form filling, but there was no way to get altered
copy of the document on disk. Acrobat Reader 5.1, however, includes some
new functions, that extend Reader functionality, and make it very close to
commercial Acrobat Approval. In other words, new Acrobat Reader 5.1 is
something like a limited version of Acrobat Approval with functional
restrictions applied to all documents except reader-enabled ones.
When the document is opened in Acrobat Reader 5.1, the Reader looks inside
ViewerPreferences/Rights dictionary, and based on information found there,
enables some editing features (or keep them disabled).
As noted earlier, 512-bit RSA encryption is being used to prevent creating
reader-enabled documents without Adobe Document Server for Reader
Extensions. 512-bit RSA keys are not considered non-breakable - in 1999, a
group of researchers completed the factorization of the 512-bit RSA
Challenge Number in 5.2 months (see
details). However, it seems that building a system for breaking RSA-512 is
more expensive than obtaining Document Server for Reader Extensions from
Adobe. Therefore, 512-bit RSA is sufficient for such application. But, as
it often happens, implementation corrupts the idea.
"RightsID" key from "Rights" Dictionary usually contains three values.
First value is a signature for the "Rights" Dictionary content (excluding
"RightsID"/"ADBE_RightsID" key itself), "CreationDate", "Producer" and
"Creator" keys from PDF Info Dictionary, and Document ID from PDF Trailer
Dictionary. Second and third values from "RightsID" key are signatures of
the first and the last pages of PDF document content, respectively.
The document is considered to be enabled properly only when the "Rights"
Dictionary signature and at least one Page Content signature are correct.
Let us starts the research with page content signature calculation.
At the first stage, every byte of decompressed page content (but not more
than 1024 bytes) is passed through the hash function. Hash is not too
complicated - some non-printable characters (such as Space, Tab, CR, LF)
are ignored, and ASCII-codes of all remaining characters are added to
32-bit counter, initially set to zero.
At the second stage, the 32-bit value calculated as described above
(actually, the largest possible value contains only 18 significant bits)
is converted to 8-byte hexadecimal representation, and "PaGeS" string is
appended to the end. Resulting 13-byte sequence is processed with MD5 hash
function, which produces 128-bit (16-byte) page fingerprint.
At the last stage, 512-bit RSA Private Key (stored somewhere in Server) is
used to encrypt page fingerprint. Encrypted value is stored in "RightsID"
array. To verify Page Content signature, the Reader calculates page
fingerprint and compares it with the value decrypted using RSA Public Key.
Obviously, the signature calculation procedure described above is not
perfect. Adding "PaGeS" string does not affect the reliability at all.
However, it is looks like a sort of tradition in Adobe: in undocumented
version of key calculation algorithm (V3), used by Standard Security
Handler in Adobe Acrobat 5, string "sAlT" has been used in the same way -
instead of the real "salt" value, that should be completely random.
However, the most significant problem with Page Content signature
calculation is it is very easy to build 1024-byte sequence of characters,
treated as comments by PDF interpreter, so the sum of all characters in
that sequence will be the same as the sum of first 1024 characters in any
reader-enabled document. Therefore, inserting such comment before any page
will produce a new page, interpreted exactly like original one, with fixed
(known) signature value. Let us pay some attention to the "Rights"
Dictionary signature calculation.
During that operation, some 32-bit hash (not cryptographic one, but a
little bit more complicated than just addition) is calculated from all
keys of the "Rights" Dictionary excluding "RightsID" array. Hash value is
converted to hexadecimal representation and passed through MD5 hash
function along with the values from PDF Info Dictionary such as
"CreationDate", "Producer" and "Creator", and constant string "Adobe
Acrobat". First five bytes of MD5 output are treated as a key for RC4
symmetric stream cipher, which is used to encrypt Document ID from PDF
Trailer Dictionary. Encrypted ID is encrypted again with RSA Private Key
to produce "Rights" Dictionary signature that should be stored as the
first element of the "RightsID" array.
This procedure looks not too bad in comparison with Page Content signature
calculation, but not perfect too. Now, the problem is related to Document
ID and RC4. It is well known that RC4 (like many other stream ciphers) is
just a pseudo-random sequence generator, and generated stream is combined
with source data by XOR operation to produce encrypted data. Therefore, if
we need to force "Rights" Dictionary signature to be equal to some
predefined value, the following approach should work:
- Decrypt signature (from any reader-enabled document) by RSA Public Key
to obtain RC4-encrypted Document ID;
- Calculate "Rights" Dictionary and Info Dictionary hash (from document
to be reader-enabled) to obtain RC4 key;
- Decrypt Document ID value by RC4 and assign it to the new document.
It is necessary to note that Document ID consists of two parts: permanent
identifier and variable identifier. Only permanent identifier is involved
in the signature calculation. The Document ID is used to resolve external
references by ID, and almost useless in "standalone" documents. So,
assigning the new Document ID is not a big issue.
As it was shown above, all 512-bit RSA-based signature checks could be
easily bypassed. It is very difficult to break RSA-512 cipher itself and
calculate signature values for arbitrary document, but it is much easier
to modify document to match a fixed (known) signature values without
noticeable changes in the document's content, and without breaking,
stealing or purchasing RSA private key.
It is looks like the only party negatively affected by such facts is Adobe
Systems Incorporated itself. However, if some U.S. government agency will
decide to spend $75K for Adobe Document Server for Reader Extensions, all
U.S. taxpayers will be affected by indirection, too.
It is not too hard to guess why Adobe Document Server for Reader
Extensions has been introduced. Generally, there are two main reasons -
Government Paperwork Elimination Act (GPEA), U.S. federal agencies must
adhere by October 2003 to; and recently announced Microsoft InfoPath
(formerly code-named "XDocs"), which promises to become the main
competitor for PDF Forms and Adobe Acrobat products family. In addition,
efforts to seizure market niche as soon as possible in this case obviously
leads to bad design and implementation flaws in cryptography-based
This issue does not deal with security, but deals with cryptography that
is widely used to provide security. Using of modern cryptography (RSA,
RC4, MD5) cannot guarantee that the information is secured properly.
Moreover, even if big companies do not have enough resources to hire
competent security/cryptography specialist, what should we expect from the
market in whole?
The problem has been reported to vendor (Adobe Systems Inc) on 02/24/2003;
vendor has not replied.
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