A new study by KU Leuven-iMinds researchers claims 145 of the Internet's top 10,000 websites secretly track users via scripts that extract a device fingerprint from users' browsers. The Belgian university explains this technique allows the tracking of users regardless of cookie and Do Not Track HTTP header settings.
This is the first comprehensive effort to measure the prevalence of device fingerprinting on the Internet. The team of KU Leuven-iMinds researchers analysed the Internet’s top 10,000 websites and discovered that 145 of them (almost 1.5%) use Flash-based fingerprinting. Some Flash objects included questionable techniques such as revealing a user's original IP address when visiting a website through a third party (a so-called proxy).
The researchers identified a total of 16 new providers of device fingerprinting, only one of which had been identified in prior research. In another surprising finding, the researchers found that users are tracked by these device fingerprinting technologies even if they explicitly request not to be tracked by enabling the Do Not Track (DNT) HTTP header.
The researchers also evaluated Tor Browser and Firegloves, two privacy-enhancing tools offering fingerprinting resistance. New vulnerabilities – some of which give access to users’ identity – were identified.
Device fingerprinting can be used for various security-related tasks, including fraud detection, protection against account hijacking and anti-bot and anti-scraping services. But it is also being used for analytics and marketing purposes via fingerprinting scripts hidden in advertising banners and web widgets.
To detect websites using device fingerprinting technologies, the researchers developed a tool called FPDetective. The tool crawls and analyses websites for suspicious scripts. This tool will be freely available at http://homes.esat.kuleuven.be/~gacar/fpdetective/ for other researchers to use and build upon.
The findings will be presented at the 20th ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security this November in Berlin.