Security and functionality have lived on opposite ends of the spectrum since the dawn of time. The door with no lock has always been easier to use than something with multiple chains and dead bolts. Of course, the unlocked door has always been easier to open for those who may want to do bad things.
One idea that promised to offer the ease of use equal to that of the open door combined with the security of the deadbolt was the “sandbox”, a restricted area within which the program could run; however, in the case of Java 1.0, many activities such a reading or writing to a local drive, starting new processes, or opening new network connections were prohibited. The sandbox may have been too successful, or at least too restrictive, as developers found it difficult to do many useful things within the confines of the early sandbox. This of course lead to a somewhat more permissive sandboxes, which enabled developers to do more, but which also occasionally allowed unfortunate things to come crawling out of that sandbox.
While everyone agrees that having a cross-platform vehicle for sharing and displaying highly formatted documents is a good thing, it was also clear that the additional functionality, which had been gradually creeping into the Acrobat platform, was creating security challenges that were starting to make people consider alternatives.
Thus it was in 2010 that Adobe added a sandbox to Adobe Reader X and Adobe Acrobat X. The Adobe sandbox was structured so that PDF processing, rendering, and such would all happen in the sandbox. Operations that required access to something outside the sandbox had to go through a proxy or broker process. The Reader sandbox joined the Flash Player sandbox, which was introduced in 2005 in Flash Player 8 – the goal of both being to permit useful functionality while providing needed security.
Sadly, finding the right mix of functionality and security, even with sandboxes in play, can be a real challenge. Recently Adobe issued another Security Advisory for Flash Player, Adobe Reader, and Acrobat X about a vulnerability that could allow an attacker to cause a crash and potentially take control of an affected system. It is interesting to note that according to Adobe, using protected mode would prevent this particular exploit from working.
Of course, if something can crawl out of one sandbox, it might be able to crawl out of two. In the meantime, Cisco SIO has a great deal of information for you on security. The 2010 Security Report mentioned earlier is one example. Another is the Cisco 4Q2010 Global Threat Report.