Show Me Your Browser, I’ll Tell You Who You Are!


To surf the web, you need a specific application: a browser. Today, this piece of software is delivered by default with all operating systems and becomes more and more used, even for non-related Internet stuff (Lot of applications or devices are manageable using a web interface). For some companies, the browser will even replace the operating system in a near future. Think about Chrome OS from Google… It’s mainly an OS booted to launch a Google Chrome browser!

Modern browsers are fully customizable. Like operating systems, their look can be changed, extra features can be added using plug-ins or toolbars. They can also be configured using different levels of security. Briefly, the browser reflects the profile of its owner.

When people are online, one of their main concerns is to protect their anonymity. Using some tools and safe behaviors, it’s possible to stay more or less anonymous. Are you sure?

Panoticlick is a project of the Electronic Frontier Foundation which tries to identify browsers. How does it work? When you visit a webite, your browser sends a lot of useful information to the server. The most common is called the user-agent. Example:

     Mozilla/5.001 (windows; U; NT4.0; en-US; rv:1.0) Gecko/25250101

But lot of interesting data are also available like characters enconding, timezones, etc. Based on all these details given by your browser, Panopticlick is able to compute some kind of “fingerprint” using an algorithm explained here. Basically, it’s the same method as the one used to identify people based on measures of their postal code and birth date (this is called “entropy“).

The problem with this method: visitors can be potentially identified by their browser when they visit a website. By using personal information like geographical location, language, time zone, visitors of some websites could become nice targers of marketing actions or change access to the data (restriction like geo-IP localization).

To test your browser, click here.

2 comments

  1. “this peace of software” or “this piece of software” ?

    nice article, btw.

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