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EFF: Forget cookies, your browser has fingerprints

Robert McMillan | May 18, 2010
Browser plugin and font data may give away your identity

These products may see more widespread use as browser-makers give users more control over managing the Web-tracking cookie files on their browsers, said Avivah Litan, an analyst with Gartner. Many e-commerce sites already use so-called Flash cookies to track visitors, but Adobe is starting to give users more control over these files, so browser fingerprinting maybe the next widely used visitor tracking technology on the Web, she said.

For people who think they're anonymously surfing the Web, this is bad news, Eckersley said. "If someone can see what pages we're going to, they know what we're reading and what we're thinking," he said.

The EFF has set up a Web site that tests visitors for uniquely identifiable information. Most people are surprised to discover just how trackable they are online, Eckersley said.

There are some effective countermeasures, however. A uniquely identifiable IDG News Service Windows XP computer running Firefox could not be identified with the NoScript safe browsing extension turned on. Adding the Tor Internet anonymization software also works, Eckersley said.

Mobile browsers on the iPhone on Android platforms are often not identifiable. That's because they typically don't have the variety of browser plugins and font add-ons that are common on desktop PCs.

So could browser makers make their products more private? Eckersley believes so. "There are some situations where having some of this information is useful, but you don't need all of it by any means," he said.

 

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