What is a Digital Fingerprinting and How Does It Work?

Your digital fingerprint: what it is and how it is used to deanonymize you.
We are not alone when browsing the Web — websites monitor us. But how do they do it, and is it possible or useful to hide from their prying eyes?

Table of contents

What is a Digital Fingerprint?

Let’s start by talking about the meaning of browser fingerprinting. Many websites and services try to identify their visitors (even those who are not logged in) using additional parameters not directly connected to a person’s identity. For example, they analyze data about the device, browser, and connection that a person uses to visit a website.

Let’s say you use an Intel Core i5 laptop running on Windows to go online, like so many other people. Taken by itself, this information is almost meaningless and cannot be used to identify you. But there are several dozens of parameters like this, and, taken together, they form a much more precise dataset that can be found only once for every hundred thousand or even a million users. Combined together, these parameters are known as your digital fingerprint.

A fingerprint is a 32-bit hex number, e.g., b2cf59b36581399ebf54d4ab425ac4a7. It is generated after a website processes all the parameters of the device and browser from which a user accesses the web page. The digital fingerprint allows successfully identifying users in 94% of cases.

What kind of information is found in a browser fingerprint?

 What kind of information is found in a browser fingerprint?
Websites collect more than 50 different device and browser parameters to identify a user. This includes not only the obvious ones like the browser version and OS, but also, e.g., information about installed extensions, fonts, and languages. The main parameters included in the fingerprint are:
  • User agent, which contains information about your device, OS, and browser.
  • Device type (computer, smartphone, laptop, tablet), its manufacturer, operating system and its version.
  • Technical specifications of the device, such as RAM size, storage type and capacity, GPU model.
  • Screen resolution, its size, and display available for rendering the site.
  • Information about the default keyboard layout and the presence of a touchscreen.
  • Data on how many cameras and microphones are accessible to the browser.
  • Fonts installed on the device.
  • Video and audio formats that can be played on your device.
  • IP address, geolocation, and system-selected country, time zone, and languages.
  • The browser you use (Chrome, Firefox, Safari), its version and settings, e.g., language and selected privacy options.
  • Extensions and plugins installed in the browser, such as an online translator, password manager, ad blocker, tab organizer.
  • Hardware noise, e.g., WebGL, Canvas, audio.
  • Current values of the major device parameters, e.g., battery charge level and amount of available RAM.
Would you like to know what your browser fingerprint looks like? You can use such services as Pixelscan, BrowserLeaks, Whoer, and Creepjs. These services will also highlight the parameters that look suspicious to website owners.

Why Use Digital Fingerprinting?

First of all, the fingerprint is necessary to ensure the same website is displayed correctly on different devices. For instance, if a site has a mobile version, the digital fingerprint helps it recognize that the user is accessing the website from a smartphone and show them the mobile rather than the desktop version.

Secondly, the digital fingerprint is used for analyzing user behavior. Thanks to the uniqueness of the fingerprint, websites can identify each visitor and monitor which pages they view, how long they stay, what interests them, and what doesn't. On one hand, such statistics allow online resource owners to improve their websites, making them more useful for visitors or better at selling. On the other hand, the same data is used for personalized advertising. The accuracy of targeting that uses fingerprints is much higher than IP-based targeting.

The third use of fingerprints is in anti-fraud systems. By analyzing user behavior and identifying users by their fingerprints, websites can protect themselves from bots or malicious actors. Moreover, many social networks, online stores, and other platforms can cross-link different accounts run by the same person using their digital fingerprint and ban them if multi-accounting violates platform policies.

Lastly, hackers can also make use of digital fingerprints. By tracking this unique identifier, they can learn the characteristics of a user's device and apply specifically designed exploits for hacking. Essentially, they only need to create a web page that collects the digital fingerprints of potential victims.

Why evading tracking is hard

What is the difference between cookies and browser fingerprinting? Fingerprinting doesn’t require any data to be kept on the user’s side, and that makes it hard to notice and evade. Unique properties of your fingerprint cannot simply be turned off like cookie files. Your browser and OS parameters that are sent to the server are an intrinsic part of how your browser works when visiting web pages.

Your device does not hide your fingerprint when you’re visiting a website. On the contrary, it shares it for a better functionality of website services. At the same time defensive systems analyze all the information they can collect about your device, connection, and software.

How can I protect my digital fingerprint?

Change it Manually

You can manually change certain fingerprint parameters in your device or browser settings. For example, you can change your selected region, time zone, and languages on your laptop, change the screen resolution, and install new fonts. However, some parameters, such as the RAM amount, the OS version, and the GPU type, can only be changed by switching to different hardware.

Use a Proxy

A proxy server acts as an intermediary between your device and a website. It replaces the original device IP address with the address of a remote server, making the user's real IP address invisible to the website. All other device parameters remain visible to online resources.

Use a VPN

A Virtual Private Network, just like a proxy, substitutes the user's IP address. Additionally, a VPN encrypts incoming and outgoing traffic, preventing outsiders from reading the transmitted messages. However, as is the case with proxies, all other digital fingerprint parameters, except the IP address, remain visible to websites when using a VPN.

Use a Multi-Accounting Browser

A multi-accounting anti-detect browser spoofs more than 50 fingerprint parameters. Octo does this at the browser kernel level to prevent websites from noticing the spoofing. Overall, this is the safest and most reliable way to change your digital fingerprint.

Why do you need a multi-accounting browser?

Big league players like Meta and Amazon constantly make user identification algorithms ever more sophisticated. They enforce their platform security and more and more often rely on automation for content moderation. This may result in permanent account loss even for a slightest violation. Websites will ban all suspicious accounts when they detect several authorizations coming from a single device with the same fingerprint.

Octo Browser allows you to keep your anonymity and bypass already existing bans of your device. You can create multiple profiles with different and distinct browser fingerprints, which websites will treat as separate individuals.

In other words, a multi-accounting browser works in such a way that your Intel i5 device in New York looks like a Ryzen 7 device in Berlin.

Octo Browser does not block user identification systems, but provides fingerprints taken from real devices instead. These fingerprints can pass any checks, and the spoofing quality and absence of browser leaks can be verified by anonymity tests run on such popular checkers as Whoer and Creepjs, which further illustrates the high level of security provided by Octo Browser.

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