New ‘Fingerprinting’ Tech Can Track You Anywhere Online

Banks, retailers and advertisers can track your online activity using Web "fingerprinting" techniques, but these methods usually only work across a single browser. Now, however, new technology can follow you anywhere online -- even if you switch browsers.

The new tech makes it possible to establish a unique online fingerprint based not on browser features but on features of a user's operating system and computer hardware, according to a new study by researchers at Lehigh University and Washington University. The cross-browser fingerprinting technique identifies users with an accuracy of 99.24 percent, compared to AmIUnique's "state-of-the-art" accuracy of 90.84 percent across a single browser, according to the researchers.

While acknowledging the fingerprinting method could be used for undesirable purposes that violate online privacy, the researchers said the technique could also help service providers authenticate users for improved security.

Tracking Tech Evolving Fast

In their paper, researchers Yinzhi Cao and Song Li of Lehigh University and Erik Wijmans of Washington University in St. Louis described their cross-browser fingerprinting technique as the first to use "many novel OS and hardware features, especially computer graphics ones" to establish identities and track individual online users. They provided both a working demo and open source code online.

"Web tracking is a debatable technique used to remember and recognize past website visitors," the researchers noted. "On the one hand, web tracking can authenticate users -- and particularly a combination of different web tracking techniques can be used for multifactor authentication to strengthen security. On the other hand, web tracking can also be used to deliver personalized service -- if the service is undesirable, e.g., some unwanted, targeted ads, such tracking is a violation of privacy."

Whether people like it or not, Web tracking technology is widely used and evolving quickly, the researchers added, noting that "more than 90 [percent] of...

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