Although not very well known, browser fingerprinting is an often used and very accurate means of identifying a unique browser and being able to track user’s online activity.
What this means in real life is that all the websites you visit may be able to identify you and help build up an online tracking profile for anyone to use if they so wish.
The good thing is it is not too difficult to wipe these online fingerprints off the internet.
Here you can learn more about browser fingerprints. You can see what it is, how it can affect you, and what you can do to stop it.
What is Browser Fingerprinting?
You have various fingerprints and comprise devices, computer fingerprint, or the browser fingerprints. All these offer chances to harvest information about remote computing devices for the strict purpose of identifying users.
While the data points appear harmless, there is hardly any chance you can have the same browser information as another user.
In the basic form, these fingerprinting techniques give a site the capacity of identifying or being able to re-identifying users who go to the site. Just some of the gatherable information is the operating system, language, time zone, screen resolution and many more.
Add to this a user agent or device through the configuration settings or a few other characteristics.
How is Browser Fingerprinting Used?
While there are some good uses of a browser fingerprint, for the most, these tracking methods are an intrusion of privacy.
While there is nothing visible, website fingerprinting, let’s sites collect data about your activities. What it means is that the more data these companies collect, they can target ads for each particular user.
While these are an annoyance among other things, these unique browser fingerprints can be used to discover the use of botnets. With this, there can be a trail for frauds and scams and highlights that some connections require investigation.
As they track users from their unique fingerprint, it will be the same all the time; thus, it doesn’t require any further investigation. Whereas, a botnet comes from a different PC each time.
One of the more common ways of data collection is via cookies. These small text files remain on your computer and store certain data and specific information a website uses each time you visit.
Canvas fingerprinting is one of the newer methods used to gather personal data from a browser. Websites, which are written in HTML5, can contain small snippets of code.
Programmers use the element inside called the ‘canvas,’ and which they initially used to contain graphics on web pages.
Now, it can be used to harvest data and pose a threat to any user’s security and privacy. The canvas element, stores font size, and background color settings. It takes this from the visiting web browsers, and thus using them for fingerprinting.
Unlike cookies, no information is stored on your device and will be stored elsewhere.
The Difference Between Browser Fingerprinting vs. Your IP Address
The difference with these is that each device needs an IP address as the websites need to know where to send replies to requests.
The unique string of numbers can be used to track you, yet this can be one of the easiest things to correct.
How to Test Your Browser’s Fingerprinting
You can use a couple of online tools for a fingerprinting test. Two of the best are:
Unique Machine is still under development, so possibly isn’t the most reliable selection at present.
These tools run through a series of tests and highlights vulnerable areas that can affect your privacy and security.
How to Protect Yourself Against Browser Fingerprinting
Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to get away from device fingerprinting 100%, although you can reduce the effects quite dramatically.
You can regain a considerable amount of privacy, and even make the results the fingerprinting offers not relate to your location directly.
Here are the best ways to protect yourself when online:
1. Private Browsing
Most modern web browsers such as Chrome, Firefox, Microsoft Edge, and Safari allow you to browse in incognito mode. User profiles are set to specific points, and it can make it harder to have a fingerprint, which is unique.
2. Plugins and Extensions
It is possible to use a browser extension to stop some of this fingerprinting. You can add plugins and extensions such as Disconnect, Privacy Badger, AdBlock plus and others to prevent ads and trackers inside your browser. (Read our Best Ad Blockers Guide)
4. Anti-Malware Software
Every user should use anti-malware software. You can find some like Malwarebytes that runs alongside your current anti-virus software without conflict. Using these can stop ads, trackers, and malware similarly as your extensions.
5. Use the Tor Browser
To get on top of any fingerprinting, one of the best ways is using the Tor browser. You will find the browser uses settings that are the same for large numbers of users, thus making it almost impossible to identify one individual.
Using a VPN Service
Many users who want to keep their security at the highest level will use a VPN. Using encrypted tunnels, you can make your location appear to be in another country at the flick of a switch. Your IP address is hidden, and you use one given by the VPN, which are often shared.
What’s the Bottom Line?
Fingerprinting is another example of large corporations harvesting user data for their benefit. Your privacy is under threat, and it gets worse the more time you spend online.
While it isn’t possible to get rid of fingerprinting, using the methods above, you can make it harder to stand out as unique.
You can try all the above and then run any of the quick tests to see how well you hide while online.