Your Computer’s Graphics Card Can Track You Across the Web

Looks like blocking website cookies isn’t going to be enough to keep your online presence from being tapped. Researchers have recently found certain other techniques such as GPU fingerprinting and DrawnApart that not only track your online presence but also expose plenty of details about the user’s computer to a website, such as the software version, screen resolution, fonts, time zone, and IP address.

According to the co-authors, Tomer Laor of Ben-Gurion University and Naif Mehanna from University Lille, CNRS, of the research paper, the DrawnApart technique makes use of minor differences in a user’s GPU behavior to uniquely identify its activity across the silicon superhighway. This could even lead to persistent tracking of a user’s activity and pose a potential threat to jeopardizing their privacy across the web.

How it Works

The DrawnApart technique does not only tap the user’s GPU and other hardware but specifically exploits GPU’s specific characteristics to track a user. In the researchers’ own words,

We harness the statistical speed variations of individual EUs in the GPU to uniquely identify a complete system.

To do that, the researchers use WebGL, a graphics application programming interface (API) created for use in web-based applications, to target a PC’s GPU shader cores with a sequence of drawing operations that are designed to be sensitive to differences across each individual execution unit (EU). The resulting vector, called a trace, contains a sequence of timing measurements that the team has generated.

The difference in the resulting trace information is then used to identify, or fingerprint, different GPUs even if they have the same form factor.

How to Avoid Getting Tracked This Way

However, to keep your online presence from being tracked you do have the option of disabling WebGL or the JavaScript support it requires, for that matter, but disabling WebGL entirely will result in losing access to a lot of websites including some important ones.

The techniques like DrawnApart and Fingerprinting are quite a frightful concept, especially when they come as a threat to your online presence. Where the very thought of having our own hardware being used against us without our knowledge seems rather dreadful, there’s no denying the fact that this has always been an ongoing battle.

While on one hand, such techniques pose a threat to our online safety on the other, people are also coming up with efficient mitigations to put an end to such threats and provide a safer online space to the users.

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