Did you know that every time you visit a website, the site can uniquely identify your browser? This is done through a process called Browser Fingerprinting.
Browser fingerprinting allows websites to track users and gather information about their browsing habits.
In this blog post, we will discuss how Browser Fingerprinting works, and how you can protect yourself from being (over) tracked.
What is Browser Fingerprinting?
Just like fingerprints are unique to every person, so is the browser fingerprint: this is what unique profile websites use to identify and track you amongst the other millions of users.
Browser fingerprinting, sometimes known as device or online fingerprinting, is a kind of online tracking technique that was originally used for security purposes but has now become more privacy-invasive than web cookies.
Websites gather your device’s unique hardware and software configurations to produce this digital fingerprint, such as operating systems, supported languages, time zones, whether you have cookies enabled or not, plugins, use of an ad blocker and so much more.
Your digital footprint, as collected by Google and other search engines, is extremely specific. When a browser recognises your unique digital fingerprint among millions of users, it creates a new set of data that can be used to link you to certain activities on the web or in person, and it’s accurate between 90 – 99% of the time.
Unlike cookies, this method does not store any information about the user’s fingerprint on their device, making it stateless. So the more unique these data become, the easier it is to create this fingerprint.
In most situations, a script is running in the background without your awareness and consent, generating the fingerprint. Browser fingerprinting allows you to be tracked even if your device or software gets upgraded.
How Does Browser Fingerprinting Work?
Browser fingerprinting works through the following techniques:
Web pages may collect data about your device in a variety of ways.
Because of this, these scripts are generally safe and will not properly display the material if blocked.
Furthermore, because the Adobe Flash plugin is installed in your browser, it may contain a wealth of information such as your system type, time zone, screen resolution, and more – the website then creates a hash or a distinct fingerprint based on all of this data.
This technique takes advantage of the HTML5 canvas element to covertly gather information about the user’s graphic card, drivers, and GPU.
When you visit a website that includes the canvas fingerprinting code, the browser is forced to create an image or text using a random typeface and size.
Because they vary in graphics hardware, software, and drivers, the appearance of that picture is somewhat different on every device.
The fingerprinting script then analyses how your browser has rendered that image to determine detailed information about your devices’ graphics, GPU model, and other data.
The fingerprinting script then converts the data into Base64 encoded format and computes the canvas fingerprint hash.
This approach is precise and takes little time to execute, which makes it one of the most frequently used browser fingerprinting techniques.
Media Device Fingerprinting
Fingerprinting your device exposes information about all of the media devices on it, including their IDs.
It can reveal not just internal multimedia components such as audio and video cards, but also external media elements such as headphones, microphones, and external speakers.
However, because the fingerprinting script needs user permission to access media devices like the camera and microphone, it is not widely used.
The same process can be used for fingerprinting as is employed with canvas printing.
Instead of generating a picture, this technique tests how your gadget reproduces sound. Because of the differences in browser and device audio settings, sound waves generated by the noise are distinct.
As a result, this approach can decrypt information about the devices’ hardware and software, as well as CPU architecture.
WebGL fingerprinting is another method for detecting whether a user’s browser supports WebGL.
It does the same thing as Canvas fingerprinting by forcing the browser to render an image or text. Then it looks at these pictures to figure out things like tablet screen resolution, graphic cards, and so on.
Uses of Browser Fingerprinting
Here are some of the reasons why browser fingerprinting is used:
The primary goal of browser fingerprinting is to track users without their knowledge.
These fingerprints are used by several sectors, including advertising and fraud detection, in order to understand customers’ behaviour. They are utilised by online advertisers and marketing companies to provide personalised, targeted ads.
Fingerprints facilitate dynamic pricing in a variety of ways. Advertisers may change pricing based on the browser fingerprinting data if you visited a different country and discovered that the cost of your favourite product was different there, for example.
Banks may examine their accounts’ suspicious online activity, for example, when a user accesses the account from numerous locations in a short period of time.
As a result, they can identify and blacklist any hacker attempting to gain access to an account from a computer with a different configuration.
How To Protect Yourself From Browser Fingerprinting
You’ve probably been wondering if you can avoid browser fingerprinting entirely after learning about how much information websites consume for browser fingerprinting.
Because browser fingerprinting is a sophisticated technique, it’s difficult to totally prevent.
You can alleviate some of the risks by taking certain security and privacy measures, but there are drawbacks.
That said, here are some things you may do to avoid this:
By doing this, browsers will only have a few pieces of data, such as the User-Agent name, HTTP access headers, and so on.
Use a Common Browser
Using the same browser as other individuals is a simple way to make your fingerprint as generic as feasible in order to decrease tracking.
Because using a popular or well-known browser indicates that many people are using it, you are less prone to be a target.
According to browser market share statistics, Chrome and Safari are the most popular web browsers in the world, with Microsoft Windows as the most widely used operating system.
However, always check to see whether the browser or operating system you want to use offers the most recent security patches for combating device fingerprinting.
The newest Mozilla browser, for example, can block any third-party requests by firms that have been discovered to be participating in fingerprinting.
Use Incognito Mode
Another simple method to minimise the risk of forming a unique fingerprint is to use the Incognito or private browsing mode in browsers like Chrome, Edge, Safari, and Firefox. When you use incognito mode, it will clear your online activity, such as search history, passwords, and cookies.
Such a private window automatically closes your browsing session after you shut it down.
Whilst this setting isn’t effective in preventing websites from gathering your fingerprint entirely, by going incognito or private browsing, you may lessen the amount of information points websites can gather for fingerprinting.
Use a VPN
Every time you connect to the internet, you should use a virtual private network (VPN) to avoid web fingerprinting. A VPN creates an encrypted tunnel between your device and the VPN server, masking your IP address.
Because of this, a browser fingerprint will not contain any information about the device’s actual IP address. It’s also a good idea to use a popular VPN and combine it with other security precautions.
However, this is not the most effective approach to avoid fingerprinting since a lot more information than the IP address remains accessible.
Anti Malware Software
Anti-malware software adds an extra layer of security for the computer and the device as a whole.
This software may eliminate dangerous scripts, advertisements, malware, or spyware directly linked to the browser’s fingerprint – they can examine the entire system and look for any downloaded software that includes scripts.
Online privacy has been jeopardised by browser fingerprinting. Browsers collect standard information like your IP address, but browser fingerprinting also employs a variety of data points to generate a unique browser fingerprint.
With future technological improvements, we’ll see more precise techniques for browser fingerprinting emerge. And this implies that you may not entirely escape it.
As a result, we propose using a combination of secure browsing techniques outlined in this post to further improve your privacy and avoid being targeted by browser fingerprinting.