Flash is dead—but South Africa didn’t get the memo

Enlarge / Why convert Flash add kinds to Javascript when you may simply contract a few Russian dudes to construct a customized browser with deprecated, unsafe plugins?

Aurich Lawson

The South African Income Service bumped into an enormous drawback this month: Adobe Flash stopped engaged on January 12, 2021, and the company (nonetheless) hadn’t migrated all of its e-filing kinds from Flash to HTML and JavaScript. So to “repair” the problem, SARS determined to launch its personal, customized browser with a working Flash plugin pre-installed and enabled.

Adobe introduced a timeline for the ultimate dying of Flash greater than three years in the past, with the aged plugin slated to depart assist in December 2020 and be actively blocked from functioning as of January 12, 2021. As of right now, the vast majority of SARS’ on-line submitting system has been migrated to HTML5—however there are nonetheless a couple of languishing holdouts with no HTML5 model in sight. SARS’ new “browser” is a stopgap that permits South African taxpayers and merchants entry to the remaining kinds within the meantime.


You’re please requested to make use of the SARS browser ought to entry to the kinds not but migrated be required, which embrace:

RAV01 Registration, Amendments and Verification Kind
TDC01 Switch Responsibility
IT3-01 Monetary Certificates Info
IT3-02 Monetary Declaration
TCR01 Tax compliance Standing Request
DTR01 Dividends Tax Transactions Info
WTI Withholding Tax on Curiosity

Please notice that the SARS Browser would require software program to be put in in your PC and is presently appropriate with Home windows units solely.

As famous above, the SARS browser is simply out there for Home windows PCs—South African Mac or Linux customers will both have to discover a Home windows PC, resort to submitting their returns by paper, or discover another option to get a working Flash browser plugin.

It will get worse

There are not any easy, simple, appropriate solutions to getting Flash working in a contemporary browser. Within the immortal phrases of many a Star Trek episode, it is useless, Jim, and should not be revived. Probably the most not too long ago launched (and due to this fact least-vulnerable) variations of Adobe Flash have a built-in “poison capsule” that causes them to stop working as of January 12, 2021, whether or not or not they’re put in and enabled in a Internet browser.

To be able to bypass this drawback, the SARS browser appears to have been constructed from Chromium v85.0.4183.121, which was launched in September. South African citizen and self-described “Hacker Coder Man” @HypnInfoSec dug into the SARS browser launch and found the Chromium model, together with a couple of different particulars concerning the package deal’s improvement.

There is a file named securityreport.bat bundled into the SARS browser’s set up listing. When executed, the batch file installs and runs Electronegativity—a misconfiguration/safety drawback discovery instrument for Electron—towards the SARS browser.

As @HypnInfoSec notes, it is nice that the authors had been not less than pondering about safety, however the precise report the instrument generates is fairly grim. Electronegativity reported 32 points with the code, most of which have safety of MEDIUM or HIGH in addition to chance of FIRM and even CERTAIN.

SARS from Russia?

One is perhaps tempted to hand-wave the potential safety points flagged by Electronegativity—in spite of everything, the SARS “browser” is locked right into a form of kiosk mode meant to forestall it from accessing something however the SARS e-filing web site. @HypnInfoSec found one other unsettling clue within the included changelog.txt file put in with the browser, nonetheless: it does not seem to have been constructed in South Africa in any respect.

The 5 builders named in changelog.txt are Maxim Andreyanov, Andrey Morenkov, Egor Levichev, Alexey Korolev, and Sergey Kashin. Whereas it’s, after all, solely potential {that a} South African improvement agency assigned a workforce consisting solely of builders with Russian names to this challenge, that appears unlikely. Rudimentary looking on all 5 names results in Moscow-based skilled software program builders with expertise within the telecom trade.

Doable alternate options

If you happen to do not just like the look of the SARS browser—or if it’s worthwhile to run Flash content material outdoors the SARS e-filing web site—you continue to may not be solely out of luck.

Whereas the Adobe Flash plugin itself is just not solely deprecated however actively suicidal, there is a Flash emulator in-built Rust known as Ruffle. Ruffle is an open supply, volunteer-maintained challenge that implements the vast majority of Flash performance.

If you happen to function an internet site and wish to serve Flash content material, you’ll be able to wrap it in Ruffle and serve it to customers with no plugin required. Simply put the Ruffle code in your Internet server after which embrace the tag <script src="https://arstechnica.com/path/to/ruffle/ruffle.js"></script> on any web page that serves Flash content material. It’s also possible to install Ruffle as a plugin on Firefox or Chrome, the place it makes use of WebAssembly to place the items collectively.

We haven’t any South African residents onboard right here at Ars, so we will not confirm whether or not Ruffle accurately operates the varied Internet kinds on the SARS web site. However the odds appear good, for the reason that emulator accurately operates fairly a couple of Internet video games and animations. Ruffle ought to mitigate most of Flash’s notorious safety points, since its Rust setting ensures protected reminiscence administration.

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