Android security unaffected by Adobe dropping Flash

Adobe's decision to stop developing a Flash Player for Android won't reduce the security risks posed by Google's mobile operating system, one security expert says.

Adobe announced Thursday that it would not provide a version of Flash for Android 4.1, dubbed Jelly Bean, or any updates thereafter. Google introduced version 4.1 this week at its I/O conference in San Francisco. The OS will be available in July.

The Flash Player has never posed much of a security risk, because hackers have not used it as a pathway to Android. "There hasn't been a piece of malware using the Flash Player technology as a vector," Tim Armstrong, malware researcher for Kaspersky Lab, said.

Adobe's decision to wind down Flash on Android is not surprising. The company said in November that it would switch to Adobe AIR as the cross-platform runtime environment for mobile applications. Adobe believes AIR is the better option as Web developers move to HTML5, the latest version of the markup language used for presenting content on the Web. The company will continue to develop the Flash Player for PCs.

Whether the technologies replacing the Flash Player will pose a greater security risk is not yet known, Armstrong said. "We can't say yet whether these technologies could be leveraged for malicious purposes," he said.

In general, dropping Flash with Jelly Bean is not expected to have much of an impact on Android users, because almost 90 percent are running versions 2.1 to 2.3.7. By the time they upgrade to version 4.1, Flash alternatives are expected to be firmly in place.

Adobe has also decided to limit access of the Flash Player on Google Play, the official Android app store. Beginning Aug. 15, only Android phones already running Flash will be able to get newer versions in the store. "Devices that do not have Flash Player already installed are increasingly likely to be incompatible with Flash Player and will no longer be able to install if from the Google Play Store," the company said in its blog.

Adobe's latest announcement only involves Android, because Apple doesn't use Flash in the iPhone or iPad. In 2010, Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs, who died in October of complications from cancer, bashed Flash as too slow and a battery hog, arguing that HTML5 would become the better platform for showing video and other multimedia content. Adobe initially fought back, but later realized development trends for mobile apps were against Flash.

Read more about wireless/mobile security in CSOonline's Wireless/Mobile Security section.

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