Web Tracking Via Browser and Device Profiling – No Cookies Needed!

I know many people who are religious about deleting their cookies and browser history in an effort to improve their online privacy.  I know others who have carefully gone through all the security settings on their browsers, and social networking sites for the same reason.  If this sounds like you, I have bad news.

I’ve been using Opera to browse the web, and trying out the ad-blocking feature and the location cloaking “VPN” feature.  My hope was to do something about the personalized advertising that was based on my search history.  Aside from being a little creepy, sometimes I am doing research for this blog or projects at the office, and end up being stalked for weeks by advertisers with closing offers on products that I never intended to purchase, or in some extremely daft cases, for products that I have purchased and been using for weeks!  As far as my Opera experience has been, I’d say it has been an improvement over Chrome and other browsers, when it comes to web tracking.

But I have been reading about device tracking technology that works without using cookies.  This works by paying meticulous attention to information that the device itself and software on the device willingly reports any time that a network connection is made between two computer systems or other networked devices.  This technique does not use your IP address, which is dynamically assigned and can change, or can be masked behind a proxy server.  It uses information about your operating system, the OS version, CPU, graphics hardware, screen resolution and related settings, audio hardware and settings, installed fonts, installed languages (such as Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Russian), camera hardware and settings, installed browsers and versions, browser plugins, installed software and version information.  It turns out when all this information is combined and analyzed, that it is unlikely to be the same for any two systems.

So your computer or phone is a “cookie” in itself, and that this allows advertisers and others to track you even if you don’t accept tracking cookies.  Solutions can include using the TOR browser, which anonymizes most of this information.  The Opera VPN feature may offer similar help.  Some browser plugins, such as  Privacy Badger, Ghostery or NoScript have been recommended as a possible or partial solution.

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About the Author:

Cybersecurity guru to business owners in the St Paul, Minneapolis, and western Wisconsin area. Computer security and hacking have been a passion of mine since I entered the computer and networking business in 2000. In 2013 I completed a course of study and certification exam to become a Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH). In 2016 I was certified as a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP). As Cybersecurity Analyst at The WyzCo Group, I help our clients experience high levels of computer security, network security, and web site security. In addition to consulting on security products and services, we also conduct security audits, vulnerability assessments and full penetration tests. We also provide Cybersecurity Awareness Training for clients and their employees. We also work with companies and organizations that need to certify compliance with regulations such as PCI-DSS (credit card processing), HIPAA/HITECH (medical records), and GLBA. The views expressed on this Web site are mine alone and do not necessarily represent the views of my employer.

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