We are all internet users and we are exploring through different kinds of websites everyday in order to get different kinds of content that expanded spread on World Wide Web. Security and Privacy are the main things which we used to consider while browsing. And both elements are very hard to get especially in this time. For adding a little of anxiety to it, some websites/web services are intentionally tracking internet users. But the funny fact is that most of internet users do not actually know that they are being tracked by such websites. And even our favorite web service providers like Google and Facebook are also included in this planned tracking. So if we want to get rid of this tracking, we should know the ways which websites use to track internet users. And let us discuss about those ways here.
IP Addresses are very familiar to us since it is your identity on web. And because of that, IP Addresses are mainly used for getting your rough geographical location of yours. Most of today’s cyber crimes are investigated and solved in the basis of IP Address analysis. Even it can’t provide street level location information; this identification method is used for good stuffs and spammy things as well. Some spammy ads (like shown below) mentioning your space (City or District) are manipulated by identifying your IP Address.
IP Addresses can be changed and sometimes used by multiple users. Because of this fact, IP Addresses are not a good way for tracking a single user over a long time. However when combined with other techniques, IP Address is a good way for tracking internet users.
We usually go to websites navigated from other WebPages rather than typing address in address bar (exceptionally Facebook like Social Networks). HTTP Referrers are related to this. When you are clicking an external link from Homeforgeeks, the external website can know the website which you came from. This is because the link includes HTTP Referrer Header in it. HTTP Referrer Headers are also sent when some content is loading on a web page.
Meanwhile, if a website is having a tracking cookie or a specific script in it, Web browsers tell the advertiser / tracking network about what content we are viewing right now. Tiny invisible images named “Web Bugs” are intentionally used for tracking internet users. Since the images are tiny, you may not notice that you are being tracked. Web Bugs are also being used for tracking email messages such that tracking networks track you when external content in email loads.
Cookies & Tracking Scripts
If you are using any of social networks or email clients via web browser, it is sure that there will be much of cookies included in your browser memory. As you may know, cookies are small sized information which helps websites to remember you. For example, if you are signing into a online banking website, a (sometimes multiple) cookie is added to your browser in order to your login information. Like that, when you are changing settings on a websites (in Facebook), cookies are used there so that the setting will be activated on each page load and different sessions (there are also some cookies valid only in current session.)
Cookies are also used for identifying you and tracking as well. But the tracking is limited only across a single website. So it is not a big threat to us because the website may have been only trying to know the pages what user browsed. But when these are third party cookies, it is very harmful to Security and Privacy. Third Party Cookies are able to track your visits over multiple websites, so these cookies are usually used by Advertising firms. If two multiple advertisers/tracking networks are using same cookies/tracking scripts, your browsing data over multiple websites are tracked and linked together. These types of cookies are used by social networks Facebook. If we have signed in with Facebook then visiting a website and liking the page/post, Facebook will know that you have visited that website.
We said that third party cookies are very harmful to us and able to track our browsing data. But we can delete these cookies and stop being tracked. But sadly clearing cookies not an actual solution for security since the use of “Super Cookies” are increasing in high amount. Super Cookies like Evercookie is really different from normal cookies. Because Super Cookies stores data in different places like in Flash Cookies, Silverlight Storage, Browsing History and HTML5 Local Storage Space.
And assignation of unique colors to each visitor is also a nice method of identification. The stored color is retaken by website in order to identify the visitor. Super Cookies are even stronger than usual cookies such that they repopulate themselves if you have deleted some parts of Super Cookie. For example, if you have deleted browser cookies and haven’t deleted flash cookie, Browser Cookie is regenerated from the existing part. And so it is very harmful to privacy.
Browser User Agent
Web browsers also send a user agent each time you connect to a website. This user agent includes your details like Browser, Operating System and some other data that can be stored to aim advertisements. And it is not much harmful while compared to Super Cookie.
Your web browser is another unique way to identify if you have completely deactivated your cookies. A Web browser can tell the websites information like Operating System, Screen Resolution, Fonts Installed in PC, Time zone, and much more isn’t it wondering? And you can test this system on Panopticlick website.
So we are concluding this article with mentioning all the tracking ways seen above. But there are many other ways to track you. Even if we are talking about it to secure our privacy while using, there will be someone who needs to grab money from all these. And of course these are a huge source of money.