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Is Your Computer Privacy Compromised By Adobe® Flash® Player?

Updated on July 19, 2011

The Web and Computer Privacy

Computers and the Internet have become synonymous. Long gone is the novelty of creating documents using a keyboard and computer screen...the days when WordPerfect was the king of the word processor hill and Windows 3.1 was just coming over the horizon.

As the web continues to grow and become more sophisticated, more attractive, entertaining, productive and interactive online experiences are offered to millions of people around the globe. The ease and speed that we can now get up-to-date information, news, and shopping bargains keeps a steadily increasing number of people coming back every day.

Privacy and the Web

Maintaining privacy and keeping computing environments safe and secure becomes more difficult as the time people spend online grows daily. Identity theft, fraud, credit card theft. and sharply increased access to what used to be private information has raised the personal security threat levels leaps and bounds.

So, how do you maintain your privacy? Probably the best way to prevent privacy invasion is by not going online at all. If the pipeline is broken, the data flow will stop. But that is an impossible scenario for those of us that feel the need to be on line many hours every day..

An article in Popular Mechanics magazine, dated August 2011, reported that the Adobe Flash player allows third parties to write virtually anything they want to our computers via any of the popular browsers.

While most of the third party information is useful, or at worst, innocuous, the ever present Adobe Flash Player seemingly provides a wide open door for hackers and virus writers to gain access to computers via Internet Explorer, Firefox and many other popular browser programs.

Flash Player: A Must Have Program

Adobe contends that very little information is revealed about a particular user or his or her machine. In addition to the basic operating system information, Adobe Flash Player provides data about the multimedia capabilities of the machine.

Like Java and various Microsoft programs, Flash Player has become a standard part of the computer landscape. Every machine has it, or soon will have it. It's free, and is automatically updated by Adobe

Adobe says Flash Player's function is not much different than the thousands of cookies written to computers every day, using standard and accepted mainstream methods. A cookie is a tiny piece of data placed on your computer by a web site, for instance, that may speed up your access to the site the next time you stop by. They can be, and usually are, erased and recreated every day, depending on the user's browsing habits.

This can be adjusted by the user at the browser level. Flash Player is not controllable by the browser. Its settings can only be modified by going to the Adobe website.

What is Adobe Flash Player?

Basically, Adobe® Flash® Player is a cross-platform, browser-based runtime application providing viewing of applications, content and especially videos across browsers and operating systems.

Flash Player greases the skids to help developers create experiences that work well for everyone. For example, if the creators of a classical music website can detect that a machine can't play sound, they might be able to let the user know why he or she can't hear any sound on the site.

SWF (pronounced swif) is a file format for multimedia, vector graphics and ActionScript in the Adobe Flash environment. SWF files can contain animations or applets of varying degrees of interactivity and function.

Adobe® Flash® Player is the standard for delivering high-impact, digital Web content. Designs, animation, and application user interfaces are deployed immediately across all browsers and platforms, attracting and engaging users with a rich Web experience.

A summary of client machine information that Flash Player makes available to Flash-based content is:

1. "User agent" string: Provides basic information about platform, operating system, and browser.

2. System.capabilities ActionScript API: Provides information about the multimedia capabilities of the client.

3. Camera and microphone access: Records streams of data from cameras and microphones (and is controlled by the users' settings)

Flash Player is one of those programs that hover in the background, instantly available if needed by an application but is otherwise invisible.

Adobe argues that Flash Player is no more an access aide for hackers to a personal computer than any other cookie. A growing number of online techs are not so sure, and are beginning to take a closer look.

While that jury is still out, those worried about it have taken the precaution of going to the Adobe website and deactivating the function.

Here's How

1. Do a seach on Google with the following words: Adobe Flash Player Settings Manager.

2. The very first item at the top of Google's search results is the one to click on.

3. Once you are at the Adobe website, click on Global Storage Settings, Uncheck the box labeled "Allow third party Flash content to store data on your computer"

That's all there is to it! You have done the most you can, for now, to close the front door into your computer while using Adobe® Flash® Player. And, unlike regular third party cookies, which need to be turned off (if that's what you really want) in each browser you use, the Flash Player settings are supposedly turned off in every browser on your machine.

There may be a downside to turning off third party access, and that is, some day it is likely there will be an application you'd like to use. You can't, because it requires the ability to write third party data to your computer, and Flash Player won't allow it because you turned it off. The only way around the problem is for you to go back to the Adobe site and turn it back on.


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      Anti-Flash 6 years ago

      Problem with solution to turn off 3rd party access is when a site doesn't work you are apt to turn it back on. How do you know what is safe until it is too late?