Malicious Intent using Adobe Acrobat's OCG setIntent

May 29, 2018 | Abdul-Aziz Hariri


Over the past couple of years we’ve seen a spike in vulnerabilities affecting Adobe products, with Adobe Acrobat and Reader having a decent share of attention during that increase of submissions. While most of these vulnerabilities are simple file parsing issues, there have been quite a few interesting XML Forms Architecture (XFA) and JavaScript vulnerabilities, as well.

JavaScript vulnerabilities specifically have always been interesting for attackers due to the amount of control they give the attacker over the bug (allocations/frees/spraying etc.). Many vulnerabilities exist in the JavaScript engine within Acrobat, as evidenced by the 80 advisories we’ve published concerning Acrobat just this year. As such, the patches for Acrobat should be as robust as possible. However, this is not always the case.

Throughout this blog post, I will discuss a vulnerability that we received through the program (ZDI-18-173) that affected the setIntent Optional Content Groups (OCG) JavaScript function. This vulnerability is interesting because it looks similar to what we’ve been seeing in the browser world and due to the way Adobe tried to patch it.


OCGs are used to control the visibility of page contents. In Acrobat, it is possible to create and control these layers through JavaScript.

For example, we can create a simple OCG through the addWatermarkFromText function:


We can retrieve the OCGs through the getOCGs function:


OCG objects expose various properties and methods that allow us to control the layers to a certain extent. One method of interest is the setIntent method. This method is used to set the OCG intent array.

According to the JavaScript API reference, this function takes an array as an argument. We can verify this from the console:

The Bug

setIntent is implemented inside Escript.api, which is located inside the plug-ins folder in Acrobat. I won’t dig into how to locate setIntent in Escript in this blog -- we’ll cover that in a future MindshaRE blog.

For now, let’s assume that we located setIntent in Escript:

Figure 1 - Locating setIntent

I’ve removed portions of the decompiled code of the sub_238B9F62 function and only kept the portions that are relevant:

Figure 2 - Decompiled code of the sub_238B9F62 function

At [1] in Figure 2 above, the length property of the array is retrieved and is fully controlled by the attacker. Then at [3] in the figure above, memory is allocated based on the size computed at [2]. Finally, at [4], the length is used in a loop that overflows the allocated buffer:

Figure 3 - Demonstrating the overflow


Figure 4 - Proof-of-Concept code

Logically, any value that causes the wrap ( > 0x7FFFFFFF) takes the vulnerable code path. Hence, this fact should be taken into consideration when fixing the bug. Nevertheless, Adobe’s developers decided to take a shortcut with the patch:

Figure 5 - Subset of patch from Adobe

They wanted to make sure that the size is not exactly 0x7FFFFFFF. Obviously, this was an inadequate response because that’s not the only value that triggers the bugs.

Once the patch was out, the researcher did not waste any time. He literally sent us the patch bypass a couple of hours later. The POC looks exactly the same as the original POC with a minor change: setting the array length with 0xFFFFFFFF instead of 0x7FFFFFFF. Again, any value greater than 0x7FFFFFFF would work. Here’s the bypass:

Figure 6 - Same POC with new array length

This time, the developers at Adobe realized that simple value checks won’t cut it and came up with the following solution to avoid the integer wrap:

Figure 7 - New patch avoiding integer wrap [2] then allocating buffer [3]


It’s amazing how huge the attack surface is for Adobe Acrobat. It’s also amazing to think how many systems have Acrobat installed. What makes it even more interesting is the lack of advanced mitigations, which makes it relatively easier to target than other applications. Add to that some less than proper patching, and it’s easy to see why it remains a popular target for researchers.

When compared to some other vendors, there’s still a long way for Acrobat to catch up with the modern mitigation game, and we’ll be watching their improvements closely. Until then, Acrobat will likely remain an attractive target for bug hunters.

You can find me on Twitter at @AbdHariri and follow the team for the latest in exploit techniques and security patches.