2.1 Fix your browser
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 (https://brave.com/) that is designed to put your security first.
- Use a search engine such as duckduckgo (https://duckduckgo.com) 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. 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 characteristic||Bits of identifying information||One in x browsers have this value||Value|
|User agent||7.89||237.97|||Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Linux x86_64) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/77.0.3865.90 Safari/537.36||
|HTTP_ACCEPT headers||5.77||54.74|||text/html, */*; q=0.01 gzip, deflate, br en-GB,en-US;q=0.9,en;q=0.8||
|Browser plugin details||5.25||38.01||Plugin 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).|
|Screen size and colour depth||5.77||54.44||1920x1200x24|
|Are cookies enabled?||0.24||1.18||Yes|
|Limited supercookie test||0.36||1.28||DOM localStorage: Yes, DOM sessionStorage: Yes, IE userData: No|
|Hash of canvas fingerprint||17.77||224169.0||c317936a22901617dd08dc99390e0fe1|
|Hash of WebGL fingerprint||13.45||11208.45||dd255d5c1bddffd68d8e0921e64760b1|
|DNT header enabled?||1.05||2.07||False|
|Touch support||0.69||1.61||Max 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
Note down in the box below how you can further improve your browser security.
Next, you will decide what to do about the risks to your digital information and share your resolutions with your fellow learners.