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H.264 vs Flash: Using the H.264 codec as a secure Flash alternative

Can the H.264 video codec serve as a more secure Flash alternative? Expert Nick Lewis provides a security breakdown of H.264 vs Flash.

Are there any security implications for Mozilla possibly supporting the H.264 video codec in mobile versions of Firefox? Does H.264 carry any of the same risks as Flash that attackers can exploit, or is it generally more secure?

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The risks stemming from Flash are fairly well known in the security community because the software is so widely used and evaluated, but most end users only want to watch videos, listen to music or play a game. How they go about performing those tasks largely doesn't matter to them. If they could do everything they do on Flash while having one less piece of software to maintain and update, there could be some benefit for security. The H.264 codec's security relies on securely implementing the software and users being able to securely use it.

In terms of H.264 vs. Flash from a security perspective, Mozilla's support of H.264 (or any video codec) increases the possibility that it will be more secure than Flash, which has matured past being used exclusively to watch videos. It now serves almost as an operating and programming environment. The H.264 video codec standard doesn't carry the burden of Flash's additional features, so hackers can't exploit those avenues of attack to abuse users. The H.264 codec can still be attacked, but it is potentially easier for browser makers like Mozilla to secure because it lacks some of the complexities of Flash. Also, H.264 isn't burdened by the legacy code of Flash, so its more secure software development life cycle may very lead to greater use as a more secure Flash alternative.

This was last published in September 2012

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