Google sandboxes Flash in Chrome for OS X

16 November, 2012 by Gregg Keizer, Computerworld (US)
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Google this week announced it had shipped a stronger Flash Player sandbox for the OS X version of Chrome, making good on an August promise to ship a Mac browser better able to ward off exploits of the Adobe software.

Chrome 23, which launched Nov. 6, completed Google’s efforts to ditch the aged NPAPI (Netscape Plugin Application Programming Interface) Flash plug-in for one built to Google’s own PPAPI (Pepper Plugin Application Programming Interface) standard.

By porting Flash Player to PPAPI, Google’s engineers were able to place the Adobe plug-in in a “sandbox” as robust as the one that protects Chrome itself.

A sandbox is an anti-exploit technology that isolates processes on a computer, preventing or at least hindering malware from exploiting an unpatched vulnerability, escalating privileges and planting attack code on the system.

“With this release [of Chrome 23], Flash Player is now fully sandboxed in Chrome on all of our desktop platforms, including Windows, Mac, Linux and Chrome OS,” said Scott Hess, a Google software engineer, in a Tuesday blog post.

Windows users received the treatment in July with Chrome 21. Linux users got their stronger browser in June with Chrome 20. Chrome OS has had the PPAPI plug-in and sandbox for more than a year.

Chrome was the first to sandbox Flash Player: Google shipped a “stable” build of the browser in March 2011 with a Windows sandbox for Flash using the older NPAPI plug-in technology.

Adobe has also been in on the act. The maker of Flash issued a sandboxed plug-in for Mozilla’s Firefox last May, and has worked with Microsoft to integrate Flash with Internet Explorer 10 (IE10) on Windows 8 and Windows RT.

According to Web metrics company Net Applications, Chrome accounted for 18.6 percent of the world’s browsers used in October, putting it in third place behind IE and Firefox. Rival measurement company StatCounter, however, has long had a much different take on Chrome. Last month, it put Google’s share at 34.8 percent, making it the world’s most-used browser.

The two companies’ wildly-different estimates stem from their divergent methodologies: Net Applications counts unique users while StatCounter tracks page views.

Google has been bundling Flash with its Chrome browser for more than two years, one way it has tried to stifle attacks of the frequently-vulnerable software. So far this year, Adobe has patched Flash Player nine time: once in February, twice in March, once each in May and June, twice in August, and once each in October and November.

Chrome 23 also introduced the “Do Not Track” (DNT) privacy feature; Google was the last major browser maker to add DNT support.

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