An Update for the Flash Player Updater

Peleus here with the second major 2012 security announcement for Flash Player. Today’s release of Flash Player contains a new background updater. This new background updater will allow Windows users to choose an automatic update option for future Flash Player updates.

If you read this September 2011 CSIS report, then you saw that 99.8 percent of malware installs through exploit kits are targeting out-of-date software installations. This point was reiterated recently in volume 11 of the Microsoft Security Intelligent Report. Also, attackers have been taking advantage of users trying to manually search for Flash Player updates by buying ads on search engines pretending to be legitimate Flash Player download sites. Improving the update process is probably the single most important challenge we can tackle for our customers at this time.

Overview of the background updater design

A full technical description of the new background updater design is available on DevNet, but here are the highlights:

After a successful installation of Adobe Flash Player 11.2, users will be presented with a dialog box to choose an update method. The following three update options are available to users:

  • Install updates automatically when available (recommended)
  • Notify me when updates are available
  • Never check for updates (not recommended)

For our initial release, we have set the new background updater to check for updates once an hour until it gets a response from Adobe. If the response says there is no new update, then it will wait 24 hours before checking again. We accomplish this through the Windows Task Scheduler to avoid running a background service on the system. If you are running multiple browsers on your system, the background updater will update every browser. This will solve the problem of end-users having to update Flash Player for Internet Explorer separately from Flash Player for their other open-source browsers. Google Chrome users, who have the integrated Flash Player, will still be updated through the Chrome update system.

Additionally, the user can change their update preferences at any time via the Flash Player Settings Manager, which for Windows users can be accessed via the Control Panel > Flash Player. In the Flash Player Settings Manager, the update preferences can be found and selected in the “Advanced” tab under “Updates.”

Organizations with managed environments do have the capability to disable the background updater feature through the Flash Player mms.cfg file. Also, those users who want to be notified of updates and do not want to be silently updated can continue to use the existing update mechanism. Lastly, the background updater feature is currently Windows-only for Windows XP and newer operating systems. A Mac version is currently under development.

I do want to note that we are not promising that all Flash Player updates going forward will be completely silent. We will be making the decision to silently install on a case-by-case basis. For instance, any update that changes the default settings of Flash Player will require confirmation from end-users even if they have already agreed to allowing background updates. Today’s update is an example of where confirmation would be required since we are changing how updates get applied to the user’s machine. However, we could apply a zero-day patch without requiring end-user confirmation, so long as the user has agreed to receiving background updates. Adobe will also continue to release feature-bearing releases that will trigger an update notification to users that highlight new and exciting features to the Flash Player.

The new background updater will provide a better experience for our customers, and it will allow us to more rapidly respond to zero-day attacks. This model for updating users is similar to the Google Chrome update experience, and Google has had great success with this approach. We are hoping to have similar success.

One last note

Since Flash Player 11 was first released in September 2011, we have continued to maintain Flash Player 10.3 with security updates for users who cannot update to the current version of Flash Player. In support of Microsoft’s initiative to get the world to drop Internet Explorer 6 and upgrade to a newer version of Internet Explorer for a safer browsing experience, Adobe will be dropping support for Internet Explorer 6 starting with today’s release of Flash Player 10.3.

While we will no longer include testing on Internet Explorer 6 in our certification process and strongly encourage users to upgrade to the newest version of Internet Explorer, we will not block the installation of newer versions of Flash Player 10.3 on systems running Internet Explorer 6 and expect functionality on those systems to remain unchanged.