Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Clickprints: A Means of Online Identification

Out of UC Davis comes a pretty interesting piece of research suggesting something the AOL search history leak already tells us must be the case - namely that browsing behavior can be used to identify individuals online.

The researchers introduce the concept of 'clickprints' -- "a unique pattern of web surfing behavior based on actions such as the number of pages viewed per session, the number of minutes spent on each web page, the time or day of the week the page is visited, and so on. The authors conclude that by observing these patterns, an e-commerce company can distinguish between two individuals with nearly 100% accuracy, sometimes with as few as three Internet sessions, and potentially use that information to deter fraud. The number of sessions needed to identify an individual rises with the number of unique users a site has because there are more people to differentiate."

In an interesting discussion on the topic on Webmasterworld, one poster talks about how during WWII Allied forces used a similar approach to identify individual telegraphers using Morse code:

"I am reminded of a description of Allied communications staff intercepting Nazi messages being sent by Morse code in WW2. They were able to identify the "voice" of individual telegraphers; even when the message itself was encoded and unintelligible, they could identify the sender by the timing and pauses in their dots and dashes."

I wonder if there's a unique clickprint for terrorists?


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