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I have recently heard a lot about exploits for PDF and DOC files on Windows, which when opened in Reader or Word would infect the computer. I'm assuming most of those exploits rely on some kind of active content, I've heard that Reader allows JavaScript for example.

I already have antivirus, but I've heard they often don't catch those types of exploits, so I want to try a little proactive defense. Is there a way to harden Reader and Word by disabling plugins or options that are often used by exploits?

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The best option to secure against such exploits is to keep your software up to date.

It is far easier to develop an exploit after there is a security patch out. Basically you take the unpatched software and the patched software and look at the differences. For most malware developers this is the easiest approach as it is a relatively quick way to spot the vulnerabilities and most users don't tend to update their system (and software) regularly.

Even with auto-update features many users still just ignore those messages. Probably because it is annoying if the software you just started wants you to update it and you have to wait for the update to finish and eventually even restart your computer. And after you finished using the software you probably have already forgotten about the update.

The above paragraph was just a rough assumption based on my own past habits and the observation of users like my mother "what does this update thingy box mean?". But this assumption pretty much is what many authors of malware rely on, and you see how good it works.

Another hint: Only open files from trusted sources.

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