The future of Flash and the security concerns on your Mac
by Scott Morabito
A number of conversations with customers has recently involved the topic of Adobe Flash. Let’s address a couple of things quickly:
Should we still be using Flash in web browsers?: Yes
Should we be updating Flash: Yes, but be careful (read more below).
For those who missed it, Adobe recently announced they will stop updating and distributing Flash in 2020. It raises a number of question for our customers, most importantly about whether to continue using it or updating it since its an end-of-life product. If Flash is such a bad product, why are we using it and why DID we use it. To provide perspective on this, I liken Flash to the musket.
Muskets have been around for centuries. First there were hand cannons, then there was the arquebus and caliver. These evolved into Brown Bess, the epitome of the musket. Living in Concord and having an office and Lexington, I am reminded of these every day as the events and imagery are imbued in the surroundings.
Like the musket, Adobe Flash was an amazing piece of technology at its time in history. I recall learning about Flash during software installations I performed for web developer customers early in my IT days. As part of thoroughly testing installations, I’d create simple animations on G3 Blue and White Macs. Flash was an interesting product at the time because it allowed websites to do things that couldn’t be done otherwise. Web language (HTML) was new and the internet was slow. One thing Adobe was able to leverage was desktop CPU processors. Web developers would create colorful and creative animations and interactive sites that didn’t require a lot of bandwidth. These animations would be downloaded via a web plug in, crunched by a CPU running on a desktop computer. They could be fun and entertaining. One of my still favorite flash sites is Zombo.com (make sure your sound is turned on)
So what happened? Basically, technology happened. All 3 factors that provided a rationale for flash changed. First, HTML changed drastically – specifically the inclusion of H.264 video standard. Second, internet speeds are no longer based on analog phone lines but optical fiber and LTE wireless. Third, mobile devices don’t have a massive, super powered CPU’s compared to desktops – instead they have specialized video processing capabilities allowing them to perform special tasks like encryption and H.264 decoding.
Ok, so if we can transmit high bandwidth video in a browser and Flash is old technology, why do we still need it? Like the musket, technology transitions take time. The musket evolved into the rifled musket with it use of a conical bullet and later became a rifle with cartridge based bullets. With Flash, there are still holdovers and developers that are still leveraging the Flash tools they invested in.
Examples of popular video sites that still use Flash are Vimeo, Comcast, and HBO. News sites such as New York Times, CNN, Fox News, and Huffington Post use Flash. Salesforce, Starbucks, HP, Cisco, and Oracle still rely on Flash in their websites.
As I indicated at the top of the article, we should still be updating Flash but need to be very careful. Flash is the most popular form of getting Adware on your Mac. These threats are real (see my previous post on this topic). I see notices on my Mac to install a Flash update often and they are not legitimate. There are only 2 ways Flash should be updated: directly from Adobe on their download page here: https://get.adobe.com/flashplayer/ , or automatically via the the TechTonic management system.
Scott Morabito is a technologist and founder of TechTonic. He was trained as a computer scientist and resides in Concord MA.