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Browser study looks to use browsing habits to help combat cybercrime.
As data breaches, malware, and other forms of cybercrime escalate, proactive protection against such events is becoming more and more crucial for protecting sensitive data across industries. Researchers at the University of Adelaide in South Australia are engaged in a study into browsing habits that aims to develop an anti-tracking computer program to protect against hackers, according to The Lead.
Hackers use tracking programs to record everything a user does online, providing access to personal data such as passwords or financial information via malware or other viruses. One solution to forestalling hacks is to prevent them from tracking your information in the first place. And browser fingerprinting is an increasingly common practice used to identify individuals users based on the unique patterns of information visible when a computer visits a particular website.
According to University of Adelaide PhD student Lachlan Kang, browser fingerprinting could affect anyone, even those who used the anonymous aspects of VPNs to protect their privacy. He explained, “Fingerprinting on computers is invisible to most people but there are companies out there who are already using these techniques to learn more information about individuals, about their interests and their habits. This can be quite powerful information to have, especially if it’s used to tailor advertising to you. In countries that are less benign than ours, it could also be used to spy on people.”
And browser fingerprinting can have quite far-reaching consequences. While computer users are becoming increasingly aware of privacy issues, Kang explains, “Currently there’s little that can be done to counter fingerprinting. This is because fingerprints build up in between the websites you’re visiting — your browsing history and personal information can be pooled in the gaps between those websites. Simply clearing your browsing history won’t make any difference to this, because the information is already out there.
“Previously, tracking was done with cookies but you could disable cookies. Browser fingerprinting collects a description of your browser to uniquely identify you without you knowing. Imagine a future where you go for a job interview and the people you apply for a job with contact a company to get your profile history, find out your habits, beliefs and are able to pre-judge you before you even show up.”
Network World examined the issue of browser fingerprints and why they are so hard to erase, writing, “Since the fingerprint is derived from a host of system-based characteristics, circumvention is far more complex than the historical process of deleting cookies. While it’s possible to make system changes by hand, doing so after each browsing session could prove laborious and annoying at best.”
Kang says his research is designed to find anti-tracking methods that can thwart the browser fingerprinting techniques. “There are a few defense strategies for fingerprinting but they all have problems. I would like to come up with a more user-friendly solution and try to determine which fingerprinting attacks are more powerful and how they can be combined, improved and defeated.”