In computing, the fingerprint (fingerprint) refers to unique identifiers used in all types of digital data.
But when some specific techniques are used to identify individual users or machines, such techniques are called device fingerprint or browser fingerprint.
Essentially the process consists of collecting information about a smartphone, computer or other devices. In some cases this can be done even when the user's IP address is hidden or when he switches from one browser to another.
For many years, web analytics services have collected information about browsers and devices in order to measure web traffic and detect potential fraud. Today, more advanced capabilities allow for the collection of specific parameters.
Earlier fingerprint collection methods focused primarily on computers, but more modern techniques can identify devices of virtually any type, and there is growing interest in mobile devices.
Device Fingerprinting: How Does It Work?
More specifically, collecting device fingerprints involves collecting a set of data, which is then combined and sent through a function. hash. The output (hash value) can then serve as a unique identification for each device (or user).
The information collected is often stored in a database rather than on the device itself. Although a single data point is somewhat generic, combining multiple data sets can be unique.
Device fingerprinting can include both passive and active methods. The goal of both approaches is to collect information from a device.
That is, even if thousands of computers are running the same operating system, each one will likely have a unique combination of software, hardware, browser, plugins, language, time zone, and general settings.
Passive Digital Printing
As the name suggests, passive methods collect information in a less obvious way, without consulting the user (or the remote system).
Data is collected based on what is sent by each device, so the passive fingerprint tends to provide information less specific (for example, the operating system).
For example, you can develop a passive fingerprint technique that collects information about a wireless driver on network devices such as an Internet modem. Passive interaction can be exploited in various types of drivers, without the need for any action from the devices.
In other words, different devices adopt different methods to check possible connections (access points). These differences can then be used by an attacker to accurately identify which drivers are being used by each specific device.
Active Digital Printing
This can include window sizes, fonts, plugins, language settings, time zones and even details about your hardware.
A good example of an active fingerprint technique is screen fingerprinting, which is used on both the computer and mobile devices. It is usually based on a script that interacts with the screen (graphic element) of an HTML5 web page.
The script instructs the screen to draw a hidden image on the screen and then records information represented in the image, such as screen resolution, fonts, and background colors.
What is Digital Printing for?
Device fingerprint methods provide advertising services, a way to track consumer behavior while using web browsers.
They also allow banks to identify whether an order is coming from a trusted device or a system previously identified as the author of suspicious activity.
Additionally, device fingerprinting can help websites avoid multiple account registrations or a search engine to flag devices with suspicious behavior.
Device fingerprints can be useful in detecting fraud related to identity or credit card theft. However, these techniques invade user privacy and, depending on the implementation, data collection can be unprotected — especially in cases of passive fingerprints.
What are the limitations of Digital Printing?
Mobile devices and users running privacy software or plugins will likely have limited availability of scripts, which makes it harder to identify. This includes using browser extensions that block trackers and ads.
However, in some situations, users with a greater focus on privacy may be easier to identify. For example, when a user uses less popular software and plugins together with specific settings that ironically make them even easier to identify.
Furthermore, the effectiveness of digital printing can be limited by large variations on the client side. Users who constantly change their settings or use multiple virtual operating systems can cause inconsistencies in the data collection process.
The use of different browsers can also cause inconsistencies in the collection of information, but modern browser-based fingerprinting techniques can be used to work around this limitation.
Final Thoughts on Device Fingerprinting
There are several ways to implement and use device fingerprinting techniques. Therefore, the effectiveness of data collection and identification from a single source can vary considerably from one method to another.
Whether through a single method or a combination of methods, collecting device fingerprints can be an effective tool for tracking user behavior and identification.
This is a powerful feature that can be used for both legitimate and malicious activities. Therefore, understanding its basic mechanisms is certainly a good place to start.
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