Macromedia reports critical hole in Flash player

Macromedia Inc. warned Monday 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, which 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 Monday evening, a Macromedia representative said. Nevertheless, the company advised users to download a new version of the player, version, from its Web site immediately.

As well as fixing the latest vulnerability the new version serves as a cumulative patch, fixing other security flaws reported since the product’s release, including memory buffer overflows, Macromedia said. It also offers other tweaks intended to boost performance of the product.

The company offered few other details, saying only that the vulnerability was reported to Macromedia “recently” by a third party.

The bulletin, with a link to the download site, is at

Macromedia sought to assure users of the steps it takes to make its products secure. These include hiring experts outside the company to run “penetration” tests on its products before they are released, it said. The company recently appointed a chief security officer, Paul Madar, to oversee security in its products.

The company 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 Corp. 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 wrote in a recent posting on the company’s Web site.

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, or close to half a billion machines, and around three quarters were running Flash Player 6, according to a survey conducted for Macromedia by research company NPD Online.