February 14, 2017
You might be aware of websites, banks, retailers, and advertisers tracking your online activities using different Web “fingerprinting” techniques even in incognito/private mode, but now sites can track you anywhere online — even if you switch browsers.
A team of researchers has recently developed a cross-browser fingerprinting technique — the first reliable technique to accurately track users across multiple browsers based on information like extensions, plugins, time zone and whether or not an ad blocker is installed.
Previous fingerprinting methods usually only work across a single browser, but the new method uses operating system and hardware level features and works across multiple browsers.
This new fingerprinting technique ties digital fingerprint left behind by a Firefox browser to the fingerprint from a Chrome browser or Windows Edge running on the same device.
This makes the method particularly useful to advertisers, enabling them to continue serving targeted advertisements to online users, even if they avoid them by switching browsers.
The new technique can be found in a research paper titled (Cross-)Browser Fingerprinting via OS and Hardware Level Features [PDF] by Lehigh University’s Yinzhi Cao and Song Li, and Washington University in St. Louis’ Erik Wijmans.
The cross-browser fingerprinting technique relies on “many novel OS and hardware features, especially computer graphics ones” that are slightly different for each computer.
For example, the technology can be used to identify the machine by performing 20 unique WebGL tasks while rendering 3D graphics in web browsers with carefully selected computer graphics parameters, such as texture, anti-aliasing, light, and transparency.
In total, 36 new features work independently of a particular browser, although they are not confined to one specific web browser on the machine.