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Adobe Putting PDF Reader In a Sandbox 225

Posted by kdawson
from the and-stay-there dept.
Captain Eloquence writes "The next major version of Adobe's PDF Reader will feature new sandboxing technology aimed at curbing a surge in malicious hacker attacks. The initial sandbox implementation will isolate all 'write' calls on Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows XP, Windows Server 2008, and Windows Server 2003. Adobe security chief Brad Arkin believes this will mitigate the risk of exploits seeking to install malware on the user's computer or otherwise change the computer's file system or registry. In a future dot-release, the company plans to extend the sandbox to include read-only activities to protect against attackers seeking to read sensitive information from the user's computer."
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Adobe Putting PDF Reader In a Sandbox

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  • Who needs it? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Animats (122034) on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @05:22PM (#32970760) Homepage

    I have only Sumatra PDF on my Windows 7 machine. I don't have a copy of Adobe's viewer on the machine at all.

    Sumatra PDF is dumb, but reasonably secure. It can't do cut and paste, it doesn't do forms, and it doesn't have Javascript.

    • Re:Who needs it? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Suicidal Teapot (820232) on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @05:33PM (#32970960)
      Many people need it. There are plugins and workflows that use Acrobat in many different businesses, and most small/medium businesses couldn't afford to have alternatives written for them, and have to stick to the commercial offerings. For me specifically, I send clients PDF proofs of printing orders, and any reader other than Acrobat can't be relied upon to be accurate enough for proofing purposes: they usually mess up transparencies, fonts, and other critical information.
      • by X0563511 (793323)

        If a PDF doesn't work the same in two (or more) places, someone is doing something wrong...

        • by X0563511 (793323)

          ... that said, just how many (and how recently) have you tried? I've -never- once, in the 10 years since I stopped touching Adobe, seen a misrendered PDF.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Blink Tag (944716)

            Lucky you.

            I've had a small handful of pdfs (created w/ different methods, including OS X's print function, and another through PHP's pdf library) not display properly. Some worked well in Preview.app (but not in Reader on Windows; others were the other way around. Sometimes it was text that would show (or not), but typically it was a background image that didn't consistently render. The most recent incident was two+ years, a different job, and several OS versions ago (Tiger), so I can't say whether the iss

          • You must be the same guy for whom upon installation of Linux has always had device drivers for your hardware perfectly autodetect, too.

    • That's good that you have an alternative that works for you on your home computer, but you're never going to get my whole department to trade some of those features for security, even the ones who -could- install it themselves. Them using an insecure PDF viewer is problematic for me because I have to use the same network. Thus it's a good thing.

    • by Kenja (541830)
      People who buy house and other things that require usage of e-signatures and other electronic documentation.
    • Re:Who needs it? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by plasticsquirrel (637166) on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @05:45PM (#32971152)
      "I don't use Adobe Reader, so why would anyone else need to? Why can't everyone just change to something else?"

      Sorry, but the vast majority of users have Adobe Reader installed to view PDF files, and they will not know why or how they should change to something else. Add to that the fact that the security of shitty-but-popular popular affects us all by proxy, and these things really do matter.

      It's like saying, "Well, I don't care about malicious JavaScript and ActiveX in Internet Explorer, because I use Firefox on Linux. Who needs that other crap?" Most other people are just going to use default garbage, and the entire Internet is impacted by this.

      Still, there are always Slashdot posts in the vein, "I don't use software X, I use software Y, so it doesn't matter." It's a naive and self-centered view of the world that unrealistically assumes that because a particular geeky reader found a way around a problem, that it has ceased to become a problem, or that the entire world should then follow this in emulation. Wake up, the world is bigger than the basement you inhabit.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by bit9 (1702770)
        Sounds like you're overreacting a bit. The OP's comment sounds to me like a reasonable suggestion that would probably fit the needs of a significant percentage of Adobe Reader users. A solution doesn't have to be completely general in order to be useful.
      • by gig (78408)

        > Sorry, but the vast majority of [Windows] users have Adobe Reader installed to view PDF files

        Mac users hardly ever have Adobe Reader because the built-in PDF tools are better. Smartphone and iPad users definitely don't have Adobe Reader, but they can all view PDF. This is not 1995. PDF is Portable Document Format. It is not brain surgery to create a PDF you can share with any arbitrary user. If you choose to make Adobe Reader documents instead of standard PDF, then you can't complain that everyone else

    • by rsborg (111459)

      I have only Sumatra PDF on my Windows 7 machine.

      Adobe Reader/Professional has grown into a sort of "Enterprise" software, since the PDF format is hard to edit properly (even in Adobe Professional). As Enterprise software, it's bloated, has way too many features that most users don't even know about (Javascript Debugger, wtf?), and is a security nightmare... yet those businesses who need it will never give it up (the legal domain is pretty much all about PDFs and TIFFs).

      What would be needed to make an drast

    • Does it support annotations, those little post-it note things that colleagues add comments with?

  • by Joe Snipe (224958) on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @05:23PM (#32970780) Homepage Journal

    That piece of bloatware should be put on a harsh diet before that.

  • Finally.. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @05:23PM (#32970782)

    It appears Adobe finally realized that a document reader shouldn't have access to my entire sysetm.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It really amazes me that anyone could successfully get acrobat to install malware. I can barely get it to view PDFs. perhaps acrobat should hire some of these malware writers to get acrobat to stop crashing on every windows and linux box I've ever used for the past 10 years.

  • Question (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wonkavader (605434) on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @05:24PM (#32970808)

    Why does a PDF viewer need to give the document the ability to write at all?

    Would ripping some of the crazy features out of the PDF spec solve this more completely and reasonably?

    What do we use PDFs for which involves writes?

    • Re:Question (Score:5, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @05:26PM (#32970846)

      What do we use PDFs for which involves writes?

      Malware installation.

    • Re:Question (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @05:26PM (#32970852)

      Probably editing and note taking. I draw on PDFs all the time, and I'm glad I'm able to save the edits.

    • by MoonBuggy (611105)

      It doesn't.
      Yes.
      Things that a document format is not in any way appropriate for.

    • Why does a PDF viewer need to give the document the ability to write at all?

      Because after unlink() you might want to create some new stuff?

    • Re:Question (Score:5, Informative)

      by Kenja (541830) on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @05:41PM (#32971100)
      Signing documents, adding notes, adding addendum, filling out forms, etc. There is more to PDF's then text.
      • Re:Question (Score:4, Insightful)

        by rudy_wayne (414635) on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @05:48PM (#32971196)

        Signing documents, adding notes, adding addendum, filling out forms, etc. There is more to PDF's then text.

        It's called Acrobat READER and it is supposed to be for READING PDF files. It is completely inappropriate for it to be able to WRITE anything. Adding extra crap is the reason that it has so many security flaws.

        • Re:Question (Score:4, Insightful)

          by H0p313ss (811249) on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @05:55PM (#32971314)

          Signing documents, adding notes, adding addendum, filling out forms, etc. There is more to PDF's then text.

          It's called Acrobat READER and it is supposed to be for READING PDF files. It is completely inappropriate for it to be able to WRITE anything. Adding extra crap is the reason that it has so many security flaws.

          Indeed... the write capabilities should be completely disabled until they are turned on by the user. Even better would be a "Reader Light" with no write capability at all for the 99% of users who will never use Acrobat to complete a form.

          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Even better would be a "Reader Light" with no write capability at all for the 99% of users who will never use Acrobat to complete a form.

            A note on PDF form signing with the free Reader: the Reader does not allow electronic signing unless the document itself is signed with a producer key that is issued by Adobe. In other words, you get to sign for free if your users are using the full Adobe suite. If they only have the Reader, you need to pay something like $20000 to Adobe to get a producer key which allow

            • by i.r.id10t (595143)

              My bank was happy to accept an excel spreadsheet as an email attachment, email contents saying that I agreed with the stuff, a md5 of the file, and the whole email w/ attachment signed with GPG. This was 10 years ago. Of course at closing, I had to ink sign and initial everything, but I would've needed to do that anyway so the e-"signature" was fine for getting the process started.

        • Re:Question (Score:5, Funny)

          by jim_v2000 (818799) on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @06:46PM (#32971884)
          YEAH! And Microsoft WORD should only let you use WORDS...not crappy images and all that.
      • by MBCook (132727)

        Why can't that data be stored in a little SQLite database (or some such) in the PDF file? Why does it need to be able to write other files on my filesystem? Why does it need to be able to write to My Documents?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Gnavpot (708731)

        Signing documents, adding notes, adding addendum, filling out forms, etc. There is more to PDF's then text.

        Uhm, if this was the functionality discussed here, Notepad and vi would be just as vulnerable.

        You are clearly confusing:

        1. A program which saves changes to the loaded file when the user requests it.

        2. A program which writes to other files in the file system, when the document requests it.

        The problem with Adobe Reader is #2, not #1. So, to repeat the GP's question:
        Why does a PDF viewer need to give the document the ability to write at all?

    • What spec? All that scripting support is Adobe only.

    • Re:Question (Score:5, Insightful)

      by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @06:15PM (#32971490) Homepage

      With Acrobat, Adobe has fallen into a particular bloat trap usually reserved for Microsoft and AV vendors. It goes like this:

      You release a product, and it does one specific thing well. Lots of people buy it, and you have a success on your hands. You come up with a bunch of fixes and new features, and release version 2. Again, lots of people buy it. Same thing again with Version 3, maybe version 4... and so on. This is the normal ideal for-profit software development model.

      However, at some point you start developing what will become... let's say version 5. You start working on it, and you can't think of any good features to add in. Version 4 already does everything you want that software to do, but you can't just stop there-- you wouldn't be able to sell any upgrade anymore. At the same time, you can't just release bug-fixes and improve performance, since you wouldn't be able to justify charging people for a new version that consisted only in bug fixes. You don't want to head in an entirely new direction because it might alienate current users. You don't want to invest in creating a new product instead, because new products are risky. You just want to find a way to continue milking your cash cow.

      Eventually you come up with a bunch of flashy-sounding features that you can advertise even if almost no one uses them. You invest in marketing to make people feel like this new version will allow them to do lots of things that they'll probably never actually do. You reorganize the interface, shifting controls around for no reason other than to make things look "new". You discontinue support for older versions. You modify your file formats so that they'll be slightly incompatible with older versions, or at least you make sure your older versions throw up some kind of warning that says, "This document was made with a newer version. Upgrade now!"

      You do a whole bunch of that stuff, and sure enough, people buy it. You set out to make version 6, and you find yourself in approximately the same bind. Some people are still happily using version 4 of your software, and you haven't been able to convince them to upgrade. So then you start throwing even more powerful-sounding but useless features at your customers. "This version has SecureBit technology, which will make all of your bits secure. Make sure you upgrade, or all your information will be eaten by hackers!" and "This version has the latest support for the latest AwesomeX technology. Make sure you upgrade, or you'll find out your friends can do cool things that you can't!" Little by little, you push customers to the latest version. This is now your business model.

      With each version, you throw in more and more stuff. Maybe some of it's useful. Maybe there are even 2% of your customers that actually make good use of AwesomeX technology. Mostly, though, your software gets more and more bloated with stupid things so that you have an excuse to keep charging money.

      Ultimatley PDF have been fine for making print documents for a long time. Acrobat and Acrobat Reader have improved in some ways, but even old versions were adequate for producing static PDFs. Adobe's only hope for continued growth is to push PDF to be used for more and more things that it is not well suited to handle. Adobe has made it so each PDF file can be kind of like its own stand-alone application by using javascript and Flash.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @05:25PM (#32970834)

    Should it be an operating system feature to force all user applications to run in a sandbox by default?

    • by TejWC (758299)

      The problem is that most OSs out there (including Windows, Mac and Linux) are user-centric, rather than application centric (at least, by default). When you run Acrobat, it has the same permissions that you have (which, in many cases, allows the application to do many things). Adobe's solution is to make Acrobat limit itself in what it can do.

      If you really want an operating system based solution, you could make a separate "acrobat" user (which doesn't have any read/write permissions), run Acrobat as this se

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by 0123456 (636235)

        If you really want an operating system based solution, you could make a separate "acrobat" user (which doesn't have any read/write permissions), run Acrobat as this separate user and do a "sudo" whenever you want to allow acrobat to read/write to a file on the filesystem.

        Giving Acrobat root permission whenever it wants to write to the disk would be rather brave.

        In the real world you'd create an Apparmor or SELinux profile which only allowed it to write to a few places and that would be it. Unless you're on an antiquated OS like Windows, anyway.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by evJeremy (1721378)
          Uh, no one mentioned giving Acrobat root permissions. Where did you get that idea?
          • by 0123456 (636235)

            Uh, no one mentioned giving Acrobat root permissions. Where did you get that idea?

            Uh, which part of "do a "sudo" whenever you want to allow acrobat to read/write to a file on the filesystem" did you miss?

            • by multi io (640409)
              sudo can run processes under any other user account (if so configured), not just "root".
            • RTFM. SUDO(8)

              ...sudo allows a permitted user to execute a command as the superuser or another user, as specified in the sudoers file...
        • by Blakey Rat (99501)

          Unless you're on an antiquated OS like Windows, anyway.

          And you can't do it on Windows because...?

          Oh wait, you can. If you couldn't, then this story would probably not exist, as Adobe wouldn't be able to do it either. Idiot.

          This is only news because Adobe is finally admitting their product is crap. Now if they only took steps to improve the quality of all their other products... but I guess you can't have everything.

          • by 0123456 (636235)

            And you can't do it on Windows because...?

            Again, where's Windows' equivalent of Apparmor or SELinux?

            Perhaps there is one that I'm not aware of, but if it exists I'm rather surprised that no-one's ever used it to block the huge security holes in Windows.

            • by Blakey Rat (99501) on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @06:37PM (#32971758)

              Again, where's Windows' equivalent of Apparmor or SELinux?

              Well, since I've never worked with those products, you don't seem to be interested at all in explaining what the holy fuck they do, and since I'm not telepathic, I can't answer that question.

              Perhaps there is one that I'm not aware of,

              Not aware of? It was posted IN THIS THREAD LIKE 3 POSTS UP! Seriously, WTF is wrong with you. IIRC, you yourself picked it apart based on a fucking typo (sudo instead of su).

              You're being purposefully dense to make some point about your fucking pet software you won't bother to explain. Stop it. It's pissing me off.

            • by cbhacking (979169)

              Integrity Levels, while not configurable in the sense of AppArmor profiles, serve much the same purpose (low-integrity apps, like IE, can't write files outside of low-integrity locations like the Temporary Internet Files directory, can't directly invoke apps with higher integrity levels, and can't use various forms of IPC to higher-integrity processes; this is what Protected Mode is all about). It would be nice if there were more control over things like ILs, but that's largely why Windows has a bunch of us

        • If you really want an operating system based solution, you could make a separate "acrobat" user (which doesn't have any read/write permissions), run Acrobat as this separate user and do a "sudo" whenever you want to allow acrobat to read/write to a file on the filesystem.

          Or you could add operating system support which would allow a program's manifest to declare that it is internet-facing and should run with lower privileges than the user launching the program, i.e. stripping the user's writing permissions and limiting reading rights.

          To avoid the program (if taken over by an attacker) misusing the permissions for e.g. unsolicited downloads to an otherwise allowed download location we could restrict the process so severely that it would need another process to marshal files i

    • by Hatta (162192)

      This is what SELinux is for.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by gad_zuki! (70830)

      Windows 7 and Vista offer protected mode [wikipedia.org] to any developer who wants to use it. Acrobat doesn't currently use it but other applications do and it seems they'd rather roll their own sandbox, which is fine, but the mode is available as an OS feature. This is separate from running as a limited user or enabling the UAC, both of which can be done on top of it.

  • Desperation (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jridley (9305) on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @05:26PM (#32970848)

    Honestly, give up on Adobe Reader. There are other options. FoxIt has about the same feature set, and CAN do all the dangerous boneheaded stuff like embedded javascript and external execution, but by default it's off, and the vast majority of people never need that stuff.

    On the skinny end there's Sumatra (too skinny for me, no browser plugin). At the other end is Nitro PDF, which has a TON of features even in the free version.

    Honestly, just take Adobe reader right off your machine. Do it now.

    • Re:Desperation (Score:5, Interesting)

      by MBCook (132727) <foobarsoft@foobarsoft.com> on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @05:50PM (#32971232) Homepage

      I'm on OS X, so I use Preview (built in), and it's amazing. It looks great, and it's fast as heck. Because of this I was able to go a long time without having to use Adobe Reader.

      Then I ran into a PDF at work (Windows boxes) and suddenly remember the word of pain and slowness that Reader caused. I now use FoxIt on Windows. It's not perfect (the experience of using Preview is much smoother), but it doesn't act like it owns my computer.

      I recently discovered that not only do PDFs on Snow Leopard have icons that look like their first pages, but when you mouse over them two little buttons pop up and you can turn pages on the icon so you can easily see if a small PDF contains a specific chart without having to open preview or quicklook.

      Some Mac blogger wrote a little while ago that if it wasn't for Preview, Mac users would have abandoned PDFs years ago as slow and bloated (the impression Reader leaves on both Mac and PC). Between Preview and the built in Print to PDF support, you forget how obnoxious PDFs can be on other platforms. MS should make a PDF reader and embed it into 7 SP2. It has to be better than Reader, and 95%+ of users don't use the fancy form-filling auto calculation Javascript magic stuff.

      • by willy_me (212994)

        Adobe threatened to sue when Microsoft planned on integrating a PDF export option into Office. Due to their monopoly, Microsoft has to be careful that they do not use their monopoly to control any other markets. I guess creating a standalone PDF viewer/exporter would be OK, but they would have to charge for the exporter just like Adobe does. The other option would be for them to create an alternative format to PDF - a stunt they attempted and everyone ignored.

        So including PDF with Windows would resul

        • Adobe threatened to sue when Microsoft planned on integrating a PDF export option into Office.

          Isn't PDF a standard now? Wasn't it submitted to the xopen group or something like that? Can Adobe still exert control over the use of the standard?

      • by sootman (158191)

        Unfortunately, Adobe has so totally borked the PDF spec and PDF creation tools that I still come across PDFs that Preview can't render. A couple years ago (right after 10.5 came out) I had a strange PDF--just a basic one page, 12-month calendar, but somehow all I got were the outlines of the months. There was no text anywhere except for the year at the top and the company name at the bottom. I don't know who made it or how but I had to be able to see it which is why I've always got Acrobat around. (Thought

    • by cybrthng (22291)

      foxit is terrible these days.. it can't embed correctly to save its life, its slow, getting bloated and the installer likes to install toolbars and crap. I loved it 2 years ago.. not so much now.

    • by cbhacking (979169)

      Foxit is nice, but they just don't *get* security. At all. I mean, a fairly basic dumb fuzzer (change a random byte here and there in a template file) will reveal it to be Swiss cheese in a couple hours. This is not to say that I like Acrobat Reader or think its security is good, but its security is, in fact, a hell of a lot better than Foxit's. As with MS software, Adobe is the big target that everybody goes for, so they can be 10 times as secure and still have far more actual exploits.

  • Why not sandbox it entirely? If the JS engine in Acrobat can run arbitrary commands I don't want it reading files from my local filesystem either. I suppose it wouldn't directly be able to transmit those files if its not able to write to a network socket, but that doesn't mean it should be allowed to read random things either.

    Adobe obviously wants to keep a very tight grip on the PDF ecosystem, why not limit Reader and only allow it to perform scripting actions on signed and verified PDFs? This benefits Ado

  • chroot (Score:3, Informative)

    by cream wobbly (1102689) on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @05:28PM (#32970888)

    Now if only there were a way for the OS vendor to provide a common sandboxing technology to all software publishers...

  • Doesn't matter (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MadGeek007 (1332293) on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @05:29PM (#32970902)
    A sandbox doesn't matter if said sandbox has as many flaws as the orignal reader...
  • by rsilvergun (571051) on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @05:30PM (#32970916)
    TIDserve gets right past virtualization. It uses a privilege escalation in IE to find the virtual OS' drivers and then it follows the driver chain down to atapi.sys (which it can exploit).
  • Litter ! (Score:2, Informative)

    by Rastignac (1014569)

    My cat's sandbox is the right place for Adobe's products.
    Too heavy, too slow, too buggy, too dangerous, etc.

  • software noob but... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by freeschwag (134804) on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @05:32PM (#32970958) Homepage

    IANAMCSE but.....(I am not an MCSE :) )
    Is there just no possible way to develop software that is NOT exploitable?

  • One can always hope that with half of Windows 7 installations being 64 bit [slashdot.org], malicious software readily bypassing the protection will force Microsoft to finally implement a sufficient API [sandboxie.com] for sandboxing.

  • by Lord Byron II (671689) on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @05:38PM (#32971060)

    It seems that Microsoft already went through this 15 years ago with Word macros. It's kind of scary that these companies that are producing software for looking at / creating documents would enable this sort of functionality in their file formats. I realize that there are a handful of applications where it's beneficial to have a document be able to write to the filesystem, but for 99.99% of documents, what business do they have reading or writing anything?

    It would be like if you bought a book, sat it down on your desk, and when you pick it up later, you find that the book was doodling on your desk the whole time.

  • by mark-t (151149) <markt@@@lynx...bc...ca> on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @05:40PM (#32971078) Journal

    ... for 64 bit linux.

    Sure there are free pdf readers that work on Linux and 64 bit, but I find that none of them are as flexible with regards to printing options as Acrobat is.

    And the last time I installed multi-libraries on my system supporting both 32 and 64 bit, primarily just so I could use Acrobat, I started having some stability issues that I would just as soon not repeat.

  • Will there also be a sandbox to prevent another shite Adobe product causing my browser to flash?
  • by kindbud (90044) on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @06:03PM (#32971400) Homepage

    Just sayin'...

  • Why yes, because when I think of what it would take to quickly open and view PDFs, I immediately conclude that the only solution is a program big enough and complex enough to require a sandbox, to make sure that it can't be exploited.

    For years, Adobe has been creating extremely bloated software. And it has been years, not coincidentally, since I've wanted to install any of their stuff.

    Why did PDF have to have all this crap added to it? The answer is, it didn't; Adobe just wanted to keep extending their re

    • by Shados (741919)

      They should make PDFs open in a sandboxed Virtual Machine, now that will be secure!!

  • by jafac (1449) on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @06:36PM (#32971746) Homepage

    Who sandboxes the sandboxers?

  • Sandboxing Adobe PDF? How about just burying this bloated, slow, insecure garbage in the sand so it never shows again. Then in 200 years it's discovered in an archaeological dig, and people marvel at how badly written software was ever unleashed to market.

  • This is like giving people guns, then throwing them in jail. Why give them guns to begin with?

  •   1.) About fucking time, morons
      2.) Okay, i feel a bit safer
      3.) Who cares? I've not used Acrobat in several years.

      Sumatra, PDF X-change or Foxit works as well or better.

  • Instead of sandboxing the software, couldn't they fix the software so it's not vulnerablerable to so many attack vectors?

    and then sandbox it...

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