Flash Point

Adobe Flash Shows Its Age after Latest Hack Attack

Flash_lFor several days in late July and early August 2015, hackers placed code-infested adverts across Yahoo Web sites with the intent of commandeering Windows computers running older, more vulnerable versions of Adobe Flash. The hackers take full control of the machines then demand payment to release the device back to the user. It’s not known how many computers were infected by the scheme, but the Yahoo services used by the hackers are among some of the most popular properties across the Internet, including Yahoo’s sports, news and finance pages.

Adobe’s Flash has a history of vulnerabilities, yet the software’s capacity to enable rich, interactive Web sites and services has allowed it to remain popular with designers and developers. Occasional hacks and crash reports have been regarded as reasonable collateral damage to bring pages to life.

In the early days of the Web, Flash was the primary tool used to create and run rich content, but its proprietary code was always in juxtaposition to the otherwise openly standardized Internet. The World Wide Web Consortium addressed this conflict with the development of HTML5, which supports interactive content and has been seen as the clear successor to Flash. HTML5 was officially finalized in October of 2014, but many browsers and Web sites have supported HTML5 content for years. YouTube, for example, has offered HTML5 video as a viewing option since 2010, and the scripting language became the site’s default in January 2015.

The latest hack has many wondering why Flash is still widely used given the standardized, modern substitute to Adobe’s proprietary platform. Use of Flash has certainly been in decline, but many popular services and sites continue to rely on the tool.

CCS Insight has long expected Flash’s dominance to make way for HTML5 (see HTML5 Challenges Flash’s Dominance of Video on the Web), and we’re somewhat surprised by Flash’s sticky nature.

Its tenacity can be at least partly explained by the “legacy chain” for sites, designers and developers — companies have made significant investments in Flash. However, the very limited support for Flash in the top mobile operating system and the growing use of tablets and smartphones mean that Flash’s use is likely to fade quickly in the coming year. Disparaging remarks about Flash by some tech industry leaders at companies like Apple and Facebook could accelerate the demise of the language.

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