Adobe Flash and Java are add-on software packages, plugins, which provide additional functionality, such as the ability to watch videos or listen to music, from within the web browser.
Examples of sites that use this are YouTube, SoundCloud, most online games, and even some campus sites such as E-Learning still have ties to flash or java.
Why is it so vitally important to keep them updated?
Because they are add-on browser software, these programs seem unimportant and the near constant requests for updates can become annoying but they’re built to do a lot more than just multi-media and have nearly full access to the system. This makes them an ideal target for hackers and one poisoned ad can quickly infect and take control of millions of machines.
What can you do about it?
Verify that auto-update is turned on.
For flash, open the Control Panel, open Flash Player (32-bit), and select the updates tab. Ensure Allow Adobe to install updates (recommended) is selected.
For java, open the Control Panel, open Java, and select the Update tab. Ensure Check for Updates Automatically is selected.
Uninstall them if they’re not needed
Alternately, consider removing flash and java if only temporarily. Many sites have moved away from the need for flash and java so it’s an interesting test to remove them and see what sites call for them. If they’re needed, the browser will prompt you to reinstall them. It only takes few minutes to reinstall, it automatically updates you to the current version, and insures the default auto-update settings are in effect.
If you decide to go this route, CLAS IT would be interested in knowing the results of the experiment. Which site caused you to reinstall which program? Or maybe you never found a need to? In our own experiments we’ve found a number of sites that still require flash but very few that require java.