By Adam Perkinson
Not many people know what Adobe Flash is, much less why it’s dying. However, the fact of the matter is that Flash was probably an integral part of the majority of our student body’s childhoods.
Flash was introduced in 1996 by Adobe in response to the relative lack of consumer multimedia software at the time. Back then, websites looked something like spacejam.com, which was entirely coded in an early version of HTML. If you’ll notice, there aren’t any multimedia characteristics about the website whatsoever. Compare that to a modern-day site like the New York Times’ and the differences are astounding. Ignoring the aesthetical differences of course, the overall feel of the website is completely different. There are now HD pictures, ads, and gifs scattered throughout the site. Developers quickly realized that you could use the software not only for multimedia, but for games. And by the mid-2000s, these games dominated the time waster’s internet usage, and soon enough, entire websites popped up dedicated to Flash games.
However, Flash was not without its problems. Firstly, it’s terribly inefficient. It drains batteries on mobile devices like a dam releasing water, sucks up valuable resources like RAM like dirt soaks up water, and leaves the user with a rather underwhelming gaming experience. Secondly and most dangerously, Flash is extremely vulnerable. It is a very large collection of code that came out over 20 years ago. And with the ever-rapid evolution of computers and software, Adobe has to push out updates faster than they can test them, which leaves room for bugs and exploits. Now, you might be wondering, “How does my playing a Flash game leave me vulnerable to security attacks?” Well, it’s not Ricochet Kills 2 that’ll get your identity stolen — it’s using services like Facebook Messenger.
Take this for a gander: You’ve just filled out some very important medical form, with information ranging from your home address, social security number, and maybe a debit or credit card. You then go to Facebook Messenger to reply to a text from your third cousin twice removed about Christmas dinner this year. A few days later, you check your bank account to find that you suddenly have no money left. You rack your brain for hours on end to figure out how someone could’ve gotten your information, but it never crosses your mind that it was an innocent service like Messenger that let your secrets loose to some underground Chinese company living halfway across the globe. It works like this: Your browser can save information like your SSN in temporary memory (i.e., RAM) that can be accessed by Flash. Facebook Messenger uses Flash to run simple things like gifs. If someone savvy enough can use a flaw in Flash’s code to get it to access that memory, then your information is available to whomever wants it.
Despite its security flaws, however, it was at one point one of the most widely used software across the internet. However, as the security problems grew worse, companies like Facebook transitioned from Flash to HTML5. And at the end of 2018, Google announced that Flash would no longer be supported whatsoever on December 31, 2020.