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Adobe Flash: Kill it now

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols | Sept. 1, 2015
It’s time to put Flash out of our misery once and for all. And, thanks to Google, it may finally happen.

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Some programs — cough Windows cough — are full of security bugs, but they’re so popular we can’t get rid of them. That is why Adobe Flash continues to be widely used. But it could be that the end is near at last for the bug-ridden multimedia platform.

Flash, of course, though widely used, is also vehemently hated in some quarters. Steve Jobs famously trashed Flash twice. First, in 2008, he said that Flash for desktops and notebooks “performs too slow to be useful” on the iPhone, and the mobile version “is not capable of being used with the Web.” Then, far more famously, in 2010, he declared that Flash wasn’t good enough for iPhones and he wouldn’t have it in his devices.

He was far from the only hater, but it didn’t do any good. Today, you can still run Flash on iOS using third-party programs like the Puffin Web browser to get your Flash fix.

It’s no secret that when it comes to security, Flash leaks like a sieve. And while that cliche is appropriate, it doesn’t capture the magnitude of the problem. We’re all techies here; let’s look at some hard numbers. Computerworld’s Michael Horowitz counted up Flash’s bugs through mid-May for 2015. Take a guess how many he found. I’ll wait.

Give up? He found 78 Flash bugs in the first five months of the year.

And has a chagrined Adobe done much better since then? Not on your life. In the last three months alone, 86 more Flash bugs have been found. That’s 164 all together, which means a bug was being discovered every day and a half, on average, or one bug every day for the five-day business week.

That’s got to be some kind of record — but not one that anyone will want to match anytime soon.

If you’re an Adobe Flash programmer, this is all great news; you’ve got excellent job security as long as advertisers and websites continue to use Flash. If you’re anyone else, there’s nothing great about it.

But Flash’s days may be numbered.

You might find that hard to believe if you have any idea how much Flash is still being used. When I browse the Web with Google Chrome, I block Adobe Flash content automatically, so instead of Flash content, I see gray boxes. And I see them everywhere. There are few sites I visit that don’t have Flash-based ads. According to Ad Age, who should know, 84% of banner ads are still built from Flash.

People are also still playing Flash games. Jerome Segura, senior security researcher at Malwarebytes Labs, says that developers are still using Flash for games. “There are people in the gaming industry who are still very attached to Flash,” he says.


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