The easy way to handle the Flash problem

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You’ve probably heard in the news lately that Adobe Flash continues to have security problems. There are constantly new vulnerability issues being discovered. Then they patch up those holes, and more are found. It’s a constant race to find a problem and patch it up before the hackers can exploit it and do substantial damage. Some people say you should just uninstall Flash from your computer completely. Some say you should just disable it in your web browser. Today I’ll show you what I think is the easiest solution.

disable flash

 

What is Flash?

If we’re going to talk about it, we should first describe briefly what it is.

Flash is computer software that some websites use to display their content. Usually that content is some type of multi-media stuff, like audio or video. Some sites use it to enable some type of interactivity between the website and the visitor. If you see some type of movement on a website, it might be through the use of Flash.

There are still a lot of sites that use Flash, but it is declining in popularity. For example, YouTube videos used to be all displayed using Flash. YouTube no longer uses Flash. Like many sites, it’s using a different type of website content display called HTML5. I won’t go into all the differences between the two, but the most important one is that HTML5 is much safer.

Flash is constantly being compromised, so it’s an endless routine of updating and patching to be able to use it safely. It’s a pain for everyone involved.

To make sure your computer is safe from any Flash problems, there are 3 ways to handle it:

  1. Just delete Flash from your computer completely (uninstall it)
  2. Disable Flash in your web browsers
  3. Use a browser plugin to approve Flash to run on a case-by-case basis

For the examples below, in order to see what the Flash content is supposed to look like, I’ll be using a simple website called Ultrasounds. You can see it at Ultrasounds.com. Their home page is sort of a “test page” to verify that Flash is installed and running, because the entire rest of their website is created using Flash (not a good idea if you’re a website developer). If you go to www.Ultrasounds.com and you have Flash installed and enabled in your web browser, there’s an image at the top of the page that looks like this:

Flash test

Except that on the website, it will have some movement. The blue section in the middle will be constantly moving up and down. If that’s happening, you have Flash running in your web browser.

So let’s look at these and see what the pros and cons are for each option.

1. Uninstall Flash from your computer
This would definitely eliminate the problem. If Flash is not even on your computer, it certainly can’t get exploited or hacked and leave you vulnerable. And on top of that, you don’t have to every worry if it’s up to date or not. The downside is that when you visit a website that uses Flash, that website won’t work. For some sites, it means that a small portion of the page won’t be displayed. For other sites, the entire website will appear broken because it requires Flash in order to run properly.

With this option, you will probably get a message on the screen that says you need to download and install the Flash player in order to view the content. That may be true – but be very careful about this. Malicious websites will often use a message like that just to trick you into clicking through and you end up downloading viruses and malware to your computer.

 

2. Disable Flash in your web browsers
I would call this a “better” solution. You would still have Flash installed on your computer, but it really doesn’t do anything because Internet Explorer, Chrome, and Firefox all have it disabled. In this case, when you visit a website that uses Flash, that website won’t work. But if you know it’s a website that you definitely need to view or use, and it’s one that you trust, you can go into the browser’s settings and enable Flash temporarily while you use that site. Then when you’re finished with it, you have to remember to disable it again.

This is what the “Flash is disabled” message looks like in Chrome:

Flash disabled

 

3. Use a browser plugin
This is what I would say is the best solution. A browser plugin is just a little piece of software that runs inside your web browser (Chrome or Firefox) and gives it some added functionality. In this case, we’re going to use the plugin called Flashcontrol. It’s free.

In this scenario, you have Flash installed on your computer, and you have it enabled in your browser. But FlashBlock automatically recognizes when you are on a website that uses Flash, and wherever the Flash content is on the site, you would just see a space that is clickable. There will also be the Flashcontrol logo to remind you that this is Flash content. On our sample page, it looks like this in Chrome:

flashcontrol

 

If you decide you want to see the Flash content, you just click in that area and it plays. It’s very simple, and it gives you the option every single time to see the Flash content or leave it blank. And it means you don’t have to mess with going into your browser’s settings to enable and disable it constantly. Much easier!

Here’s how to install Flashcontrol in Chrome:

1. Open Chrome, and go here: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/flashcontrol/mfidmkgnfgnkihnjeklbekckimkipmoe?hl=en

2. Click on “Add to Chrome”:

flashcontrol

3. For the confirmation window, click “Add”:

add flashcontrol

 

Here’s how to install Flash Control in Firefox:

1. Open Firefox, and go here: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/flash-control/

2. Click on “Add to Firefox”:

Flash Control

3. Click “Install Now”:

flash control

 

The plugin is slightly different in Firefox. When you see a page with Flash content, this is what will be in that space:

flash control

You just click on the “F” and the Flash content will play.

 

For Internet Explorer, the process is different. No plugin is available (that I know of) but you can still block Flash content by default and then play it on a case-by-case basis. I should say here – I don’t recommend using Internet Explorer anyway. I only use it when I am forced to. But you might have to use it at work, so you should still know how to handle Flash content safely.

Here’s how you block Flash in Internet Explorer:

1. Open Internet Explorer, and click Tools – Manage Add-ons:

block flash internet explorer

2. In the next window, under the “Show” dropdown menu, choose “All add-ons”:

flash block internet explorer

3. In the same window, find “Shockwave Flash Object” in the list, and do a RIGHT click on it, and choose “Disable”:

flash block internet explorer

4. Close the Manage Add-ons window.

Now, whenever you use Internet Explorer and come to a website that has Flash content, you’ll get this message at the bottom of the screen:

block flash internet explorer

So you can choose to allow the Flash content to play, or just ignore it and it won’t play.

It’s interesting how things develop on the internet. The Flash-blocking plugins for Chrome and Firefox weren’t created initially because of all the security issues with Flash. They were created and made available because people just got sick of seeing all the stupid website ads that use Flash – those are the ones that have words and pictures flashing on and off, jumping up and down, vibrating, moving all around – it’s really annoying, and so people just wanted a way to shut off that nonsense. That’s why I’ve been using Flash-blocking plugins for a long time. And now, there’s another reason to use them – to keep your computer safe.

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