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Introduction to cyber security: stay safe online
Introduction to cyber security: stay safe online

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2.1 Fix your browser

A photograph of chocolate chip cookies.
Figure 9

Web browsers are steadily developing enhanced security and it is a good idea to use the latest version.

There are several simple things you can do to improve your web browser’s security.

  • Use a browser such as Brave ( that is designed to put your security first.
  • Use a search engine such as duckduckgo ( that doesn’t track you.
  • Use a secure VPN or the TOR browser when using public wi-fi.

Cookies are small pieces of data that can be used to track your use of the web and some websites host cookies belonging to organisations you know nothing about – these are called ‘third party cookies’ and they’re no use to you whatsoever. Use the tools/preferences menu in your browser to prevent the use of third party cookies.

Once you have checked your settings you can test whether you can be identified by your web browser by visiting the site [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] . Read the information about this site and then hit the ‘Test Me’ button.

The table shows the test results for a secure browser.

Table 1 Test results for a secure browser
Is your browser blocking tracking ads?Yes
Is your browser blocking invisible trackers?Yes
Dows your blocker stop trackers that are included in the so-called ‘acceptable ad’ whitelist?Yes
Does your browser unblock 3rd parties that promise to honour Do not track?No
Does your browser protect from fingerprinting?Your browser has a unique fingerprint

Note the result ‘your browser has a unique fingerprint’. Here are my results for this test: ‘Your browser fingerprint appears to be unique among the 224,169 tested in the past 45 days. Currently, we estimate that your browser has a fingerprint that conveys at least 17.77 bits of identifying information.’

The table below shows the different attributes of the user’s browser and computer that can be detected by a web server.

Table 2 Browser and computer attributes that can be detected by a web server
Browser characteristicBits of identifying informationOne in x browsers have this valueValue
User agent7.89237.97|Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Linux x86_64) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/77.0.3865.90 Safari/537.36|
HTTP_ACCEPT headers5.7754.74|text/html, */*; q=0.01 gzip, deflate, br en-GB,en-US;q=0.9,en;q=0.8|
Browser plugin details5.2538.01Plugin 0: Chrome PDF Plugin; Portable Document Format; internal-pdf-viewer; (Portable Document Format; application/x-google-chrome-pdf; pdf). Plugin 1: Chrome PDF Viewer; ; mhjfbmdgcfjbbpaeojofohoefgiehjai; (; application/pdf; pdf).
Time zone2.575.950
Screen size and colour depth5.7754.441920x1200x24
System fonts10.321280.97Andale Mono, Arial, Arial Black, Comic Sans MS, Courier, Courier New, Georgia, Helvetica, Impact, MS Gothic, MS PGothic, Times, Times New Roman, Trebuchet MS, Verdana, Wingdings 2, Wingdings 3 (via javascript)
Are cookies enabled?0.241.18Yes
Limited supercookie test0.361.28DOM localStorage: Yes, DOM sessionStorage: Yes, IE userData: No
Hash of canvas fingerprint17.77224169.0c317936a22901617dd08dc99390e0fe1
Hash of WebGL fingerprint13.4511208.45dd255d5c1bddffd68d8e0921e64760b1
DNT header enabled?1.052.07False
Platform3.068.35Linux x86_64
Touch support0.691.61Max touchpoints: 0; TouchEvent supported: false; onTouchStart supported: false

Each result by itself doesn’t give much information away. The screen size and colour depth suggests a desktop computer and the platform is identified as Linux. However, in combination all this information creates a digital fingerprint that might identify you wherever you browsed, even if you were pretending to be someone else and had blocked cookies. For most, that probably doesn’t matter, but, for example, a whistleblower or journalist reporting news should be aware of how hard it is to keep yourself hidden and safe.

Activity 1 Improving your browser security

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

Note down in the box below how you can further improve your browser security.

To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Next, you will decide what to do about the risks to your digital information and share your resolutions with your fellow learners.