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:

I am a cybersecurity and IT instructor, cybersecurity analyst, pen-tester, trainer, and speaker. I am an owner of the WyzCo Group Inc. In addition to consulting on security products and services, I also conduct security audits, compliance audits, vulnerability assessments and penetration tests. I also teach Cybersecurity Awareness Training classes. I work as an information technology and cybersecurity instructor for several training and certification organizations. I have worked in corporate, military, government, and workforce development training environments I am a frequent speaker at professional conferences such as the Minnesota Bloggers Conference, Secure360 Security Conference in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, the (ISC)2 World Congress 2016, and the ISSA International Conference 2017, and many local community organizations, including Chambers of Commerce, SCORE, and several school districts. I have been blogging on cybersecurity since 2006 at http://wyzguyscybersecurity.com

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