I had intended to save this week’s column for a few months before submitting it for publication, but a question emailed to me from a reader prompted me to move my timetable forward. Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebration does not come until November, and I thought a perfect segue would be to write then about a death in the family—the Information Technology family, that is.
The death occurred a few weeks ago, on January 12, 2021. The passing was not surprising as it had actually been planned for some time. And the death is not one widely mourned, with most IT people rather saying “Good riddance!”
Originally created in 1995, Flash Player, better known as Micromedia Flash and later as Adobe Flash, was a significant innovation that brought graphics and animations to an internet that had previously been mostly dull, plain text. Unfortunately, Flash was not engineered for an internet crawling with cyber-crooks, and it quickly became an attack vector for all manner of malware and online scams. For two decades Micromedia, and then Adobe, tried in vain to find and fix all the security vulnerabilities until deciding in July 2017 that Flash would be permanently killed off.
To remove Flash as a security threat to the world, Adobe added a “hard end of life” time bomb to shut down the program on January 12, 2021. All web browsers (Chrome, Edge, Safari, etc.) soon eliminated Flash support from their products. Despite Adobe giving the world three years notice, somehow, the word did not get out to everyone.
When the tax Krugerrands stopped coming in, the South African Revenue Service suddenly realized its tax collection software, written using Flash, was dead. Incredibly, they decided to develop and distribute their own browser to re-enable Adobe Flash and all its security problems rather than migrate to a newer and more secure software platform. Three years notice should have given the Revenue Service plenty of time to plan for a change of software, and creating a kludge browser in order to continue using an insecure Flash platform is a breathtakingly incredible example of bad management.
Over in China, January 12 was the day many thousands of people were late to work or could not get there at all because the China Shenyang Railway in Dalian, Liaoning, used Flash software as its timetable system. Therefore, when Flash shut itself off, the trains stopped running. The Chinese IT techs quickly restored backups of an older version of Flash without the end-of-life kill switch in order to get the trains running again. What should have been predictable is that the old software would update itself, and that is exactly what happened a few hours later. Then the kill switch in the updated software shut Flash down again, stranding thousands of passengers on trains that could not safely move.
Almost everywhere else, Adobe Flash is now officially gone from the web. It has been gone from Android phones since 2011, and even better is that Apple’s iPhones never had it.
Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981, and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 044 415 101 8528 or email FAQ8@SMAguru.com.