Web Fingerprinting: A New Threat To Privacy

918 words - 4 pages

Web sites are combining peripheral characteristics from a computer’s configuration to build a profile of a device. Therefore web browsers are exposed to PC fingerprinting. By implementing this method, it is possible to associate the user’s activity within different times and different websites (Peter Eckersley).
Innovation inevitably grows alongside cyber crime. Browser fingerprinting could be perceived as an improvement to e-commerce, because it prevents and detects the incidents concerning identity theft, frauds and hacking. It is an alternative solution to verify if the person in the transaction is trustable. Moreover, this method of tracking is a source of profit for web sites because data containing user’s behaviour and range of interest is traded; enabling third parties to direct their advertisements towards a potential buyer. As a consequence, web users will be aware of new products and services that might be of their appeal. It also facilitates law enforcement, by tracking criminals and/or illegal activities. Nowadays, several companies offer the service of fingerprinting to web sites (Faulkner, Alisdair 2009).
Conversely, this system is also used for unscrupulous tracking. Web clients are being monitored without their knowledge or consent, indicating a threat to their privacy. Web clients are not only watched, but their personal information in being traded among third parties. This enables the outsourcing of vital information to unknown recipients.

B. The IT background of the issue
The biometric signatures transmitted are very subtle characteristics such as plug-in version numbers, system fonts, screen resolution, browser type, clock time, time zone, languages and media supported(Maximilian Schubert, 2010). This is a method of distinguishing machines and does not directly identify users; however it can build a very detailed internet profile which facilitates the association with user’s identities (Louisa Hearn, 2010).
The collection of this basic data relies mostly on the availability of JavaScript HTML, Flash or similar client-side scripting. Smart phones, like IPhones and Androids are harder to fingerprint because they don’t have the usual desktop plug-ins and their fonts are harder to detect. In spite of this, smart phones lack good cookie control allowing other tracking systems to trace them.
To uniquely reveal a person’s identity, approximately 33 bits of entropy is needed. Entropy is the quantity of different possibilities for a random variable (Peter Eckersley, 2010).
A weakness of this method is its instability. If the configuration attributes are modified, for example disabling cookies or installing a new font, it will result in a change of the browser fingerprint (Peter Eckersley, 2010). Another facet were this device fingerprinting fails, is in the diversity of the software and hardware settings. If the basic the configurations are equal in two or more browsers, it is impossible to uniquely distinguish...

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