Browser Fingerprinting

Browser fingerprinting offers an incredibly accurate approach of recognizing unique browsers as well as tracking online activities. It can be well-defined as a device or machine fingerprint which collects information about the computer or device for the purpose of identification.

Browser fingerprinting remains a powerful technique used by websites in collecting information relating to active plugins, browser type, and version, language, operating system, screen resolution, time zone, and other vital details.

Why Browser Fingerprinting?

Browser fingerprinting is integrated into almost all sites for the purpose of web tracking, averting click fraud, accessing user data, and other variable influence on users. Another popular application of browser fingerprinting is its beneficial use for targeted advertising.

They also find usage in the regeneration of deleted cookies or re-linking old cookies. Browser fingerprinting is useful to enhance electronic authentication actions as well as in the prevention of unlawful system access that lacks reliance on the user interface.

How It Works

Browser fingerprinting offers a powerful approach for website owners to gather information about the user browser and other relevant data. These data points may appear generic and may not be mostly personalized to identifying users.

Whenever cookies are turned off, the browser fingerprints can serve in the full or partial identification of individual computers or devices. So, once a user is connected to the internet, the computer or device would provide several detailed data to the receiving server about websites visited.

Website owners use the data made available by the browsers in identifying unique users and tracking their online habits. The process takes the uniqueness of browser information to identifying connected based on the data obtained.

Nevertheless, there is significantly a slight possibility for two users to have 100% similar browsing data. According to Panopticlick, only 1 in 286,777 other browsers would have the same fingerprint for two users. Website owners use Browser Fingerprinting to create a massive database that stores user information, which can be accessed for additional analytics purposes.

These websites collect a broad set of visitor’s data for later usage. All data collected do not automatically reveal your exact location or other personal details like address or name, but it is precious to advertisers and companies seeking targeted campaigns. The data collection and tracking approach remain extremely valuable due to its advertising potentials. So, the more the data, the more accurate targeted ads can be, which (indirectly) implies more revenue.

Track User Activity

Websites employ several approaches towards tracking connected users. The collected information and browser fingerprint provide a less intrusive method, with most users less aware of the process. The browser fingerprinting technology allows websites to interact with the user browser and retrieve data. Sites with browser fingerprints do not necessarily know the user’s name but look to collect data and information that are considered valuable.

Once a user visits such a site, the fingerprinting code begins the interaction process with the connected computer or device for data processes like knowing your operating system, installed fonts, and more. Many times, the browser fingerprint code would execute the digital equivalent of a RADAR test, transmitting signal just to see what response it gets.

The website code contained in the transmitted signals instructs the browser on the answers needed. The coding for browser fingerprinting may include words or icons that never appear on the screen, allowing websites to track small differences in how every computer or device responds. Every site has its own data points to building its fingerprint database, which makes it hard to detect. Apps can feature browser fingerprints as well, via even more attributes available on the connected device.

Protect Privacy

Luckily, if you seek more privacy, there are some actions to take towards reducing your fingerprints from the web. There is less possibility of removing all to protect yourself completely. Maybe new software or other sufficient approaches might suffice later.

Nevertheless, the following tools and methods below can help enhance your online privacy and minimize your browser fingerprinting.

Anti-Malware Software

The use of Anti-malware software is always beneficial, irrespective of whether a user is seeking online privacy protection or general protection for data and personal files. Outstanding anti-malware software tools like HitmanPro and Malwarebytes offers seamless solutions to reducing browser fingerprint alongside serving as a second layer of protection. In most cases, anti-malware blocks ads, harmful toolbars, and spyware software that may be running on your system background.

Disabling Flash and JavaScript

Disabling Flash and JavaScript is another practical approach to consider. Once JavaScript is disabled, these sites would not be able to detect current fonts and plugins, as well as limit the installation of certain cookies on browsers. But disabling JavaScript may limit the functionalities of websites as it is essential for them to deliver smooth operations during browsing sessions. In contrast, deactivating flash offers no negative impact on user experience.

The Onion Router (Tor) Browser

If a user is considering an extremely secure browser with a limited browser fingerprint, then the installation of Tor Browser becomes necessary. The best approach is running the Tor Browser alongside a good Virtual Private Network (VPN). The Tor browser makes use of the same default settings for all users, thus making it challenging to detect unique browser fingerprints. Also, the Tor Browser blocks JavaScript for sites, but its main downside is its slow browsing speed.

Use Private Browsing Methods (incognito mode)

Several browsers allow users to browse in private or incognito mode. This method makes the browsing session private by setting your “profile” and other data points to a certain standard. These data points are amongst the details requested by browser fingerprint, so the use of similar “profile” settings for several users creates the same fingerprints that significantly reduce your chances of exposure.

Use Plugins

Users can opt for the use of plugins capable of disabling trackers employed by some websites. Plugins like AdBlock Plus, Disconnect, NoScript, and Privacy Badger, are created to block script with potential spy ads and unseen trackers. For some sites, the use of plugins may limit user experience. But the plugins also offer the possibilities of whitelisting some websites the user trust.

Virtual Private Network (VPN)

The use of a VPN is the most popular approach to hiding IP addresses. The VPN acts as a middle man between the connected computer or device and the Internet Service Provider (ISP). With VPN, the webserver only gets access to the IP of the VPN (which is likely engaged by several users). But the IP address is only one aspect to browser fingerprinting. Irrespective of the IP sent to the web server, a user browser setting, version, and more can create unique browser fingerprint data that cannot be changed by VPN.

It merely implies your browser data still permits the webserver to detect unique visitors irrespective of the VPN used. The VPN is an excellent tool for hiding real IP addresses, but not the most effective approach to protecting users against browser fingerprint. Nevertheless, this approach still makes a list as it can be combined with other methods to offer even more advanced restrictions to browser fingerprinting.

Application Approaches

Several sites can engage in unique fingerprints from visitors to create an in-depth system for targeting visitors. The use of browser fingerprint covers a wide-ranging list of data points that is unique for different users.

If you take online privacy seriously, browser fingerprint makes use of details that goes further than just the IP address. There are several approaches available for users to engage in covering up browser fingerprints. Some of these approaches include the use of anti-malware tools, incognito mode, security plugins, Tor Browser, VPN, disabling JavaScript, and Flash. Depending on the method you consider comfortable, browser fingerprint can be reduced to suit your needs.

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Buddy is a military veteran, former intelligence officer, and entrepreneur who teaches dozens of courses on a variety of intelligence-related topics. He currently serves as the Chief Executive Officer of Echo Analytics Group and is based in Tampa, Florida.