Why You Should Update Adobe Reader

 Posted by on May 1, 2011  general
May 012011

An out of date version of Adobe Reader leaves your computer more exposed to virus infection. Adobe Reader (formerly Acrobat Reader) is free software that allows you to view and print PDF files.

PDF (Portable Document Format) is a common open format for document exchange and offers a fixed layout document typically used for things like user manuals, reports, property details on realtor’s websites, online invoices and account statements.

Adobe Reader is a stand-alone program but it also installs an add-on or extension into the web browser to let you open or save PDF files directly from webpages – it is one of the core Windows programs that you should keep updated.

You probably already have it on your computer. Many websites offer PDF documents for opening or download – without a PDF reader you may not be able to open, save or view PDF files and websites offering them will keep prompting you to install Adobe Reader…

Why Update It?

We have lost count of the number of computers we see with very old versions of Adobe Reader installed (versions 6, 7 and 8 are long obsolete and version 9 has been superseded for security reasons). Many people ignore repeated reminders to update it because they don’t know what Adobe Reader is or are afraid it may cause a problem. However, there are 2 very good reasons to keep Adobe Reader up to date:

1.  Performance and Reliability – The latest version provides better performance and improved compatibility with new releases of web browsers and Windows Service Packs.

2.  Security – Because PDF use is so widespread it is often the target of viruses. The latest version has security updates and sandbox protection to help keep your computer safe – the sandbox lets Adobe Reader run in a confined environment that blocks specific actions (e.g. installing files or modifying system information) and so prevents virus infected PDF files damaging your computer.

Using an older insecure version of Adobe Reader leaves your computer more exposed to virus infection and malware.

How To Update Or Install Adobe Reader

The latest version at the time of writing is Adobe Reader XI. I wish Adobe wouldn’t be so pretentious and confuse people – it is actually version 11 but instead of continuing with the obvious naming strategy of version 11 they have swapped to the Roman numeral XI.

If your version is older (or you do not have Adobe Reader installed) you can download it directly from Adobe but their download and installation process can be confusing (it installs an unnecessary download manager and prompts for additional programs) so we recommend downloading it from Filehippo here.

Double click the file you downloaded to install it – follow the simple instructions but keep an eye out for any other options ticked during the installation process e.g. the Google Toolbar – untick these options if you do not want to install them as well. Adobe Reader XI automatically removes and updates the previous version of Reader (if present) so you should now be up to date.

Make Adobe Reader Secure After Installation

You should see a new shortcut on your desktop for Adobe Reader X. After installing Adobe Reader X always perform the following steps to make it more secure and further reduce the risk from malicious or virus infected PDF files:

  • Double click the shortcut to open Adobe Reader (the first time it will display a license agreement – just click to Accept it).
  • Disable Javascript – click on Edit and select Preferences. Then click on the Javascript category and untick ‘Enable Acrobat Javascript’.
  • Disable Windows Trusted Sites – click on Edit and select Preferences. Then click on the Security (Enhanced) category and untick ‘Automatically trust sites from my Win OS security zones’.
  • Secure Trust Manager – click on Edit and select Preferences. Then click on the Trust Manager category and untick ‘Allow opening of non-PDF file attachments with external applications’.

Remember to update Adobe Reader on a regular basis – a reminder will pop up in your system tray (bottom right of screen) when a new version is available.

  2 Responses to “Why You Should Update Adobe Reader”

  1. Is Adobe Reader actually free software? Thought the license indicates something different… You further say, that it’s one of the core Windows programs that one should keep updated. Let me point out please, that there are other readers available for installation. Adobe Acrobat has a bad security record and one could raise the question whether it’s a good idea to use it.

    Unfortunately you’re damn right with your last sentence within the paragraph “Do I Have/Need It?”. In my opinion that’s exactly the problem..! Regarding security let me explain, that PDF is indeed widespread — which is not the problem however. This is heard quite often but the real problems lie deeper within the sandbox, script engine and other proprietary extensions. Finally let me say that I appreciate the security related paragraph at the end of your article, but this won’t be enough.

    • Interesting article about the security implications of popular Adobe software and certainly corporations should consider the risks. However, for personal users, in our view:

      1) Adobe Reader is free – it is licensed (i.e. not FOSS free open source software) but nothing in the license indicates otherwise – although it is highly amusing that Adobe state you can only access the product license by downloading it – in PDF format and “you will need to download Adobe Reader software” first to view the license – duh!

      2) We call it a ‘core’ Windows program because 90%+ ordinary users already have it on their computer – there are alternatives like Foxit Reader and our own favorite PDF-XChange Viewer but these are not subject to the same rigorous technical scrutiny as the ubiquitous Adobe Reader – they may well have their own (even more serious?) security issues that only escape attention due to their relatively small user base. Alternative software may also not display some PDF content correctly – because most PDFs will have been designed and tested for display in Adobe Reader.

      We would not advise against using an alternative to Adobe Reader but equally we do not feel that there has been enough serious independent research into any single alternative to wholeheartedly recommend any of them as guaranteed to be more secure or compatible.

      3) Most of the security issues associated with Adobe Reader and Adobe Flash are quickly fixed by security updates to those programs. Keeping the programs up to date will therefore reduce the risk – most of the virus infected computers we see in our repair business have hopelessly out of date versions of Adobe software installed so they were just asking to be infected. Zero day exploits can be an issue but that is the same for Windows itself – safe web browsing and good antivirus software will reduce that risk..

      4) Anyone obsessed with security would not be using Windows in the first place due to the inherent security risks and because it is the most popular operating system (so targeted more by malware creators). Using Linux or Mac OS would greatly reduce the risk of infection but our website is aimed at novices and intermediate users who use Windows – swapping to a more secure operating system is not a serious option for most people.