Not so “private browsing”

In light of the “private browsing” claims being made,  chrome internet explorerStanford University conducted research to investigate the privacy of the “private browsing” feature on some web browsers (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome and Safari).  Apparently, many popular browser extensions and plugins undermine the security of private browsing and many kinds of information can be leaked by browsers when using the “private browsing” mode.

Privacy mode, sometimes informally referred to as “porn mode”, is a term that refers to privacy features in some web browsers. Historically speaking, web browsers store information such as browsing history, images, videos and text within cache. … en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Private_browsing

firefox safariAn Analysis of Private Browsing Modes in Modern Browsers (Gaurav Aggarwal and Elie Bursztein, Stanford University; Collin Jackson, CMU; Dan Boneh, Stanford University) will  be presented at the USENIX security conference and it suggests that the these browser tools aren’t really private after all.

We study the security and privacy of private browsing modes recently added to all major browsers. We first propose a clean definition of the goals of private browsing and survey its implementation in different browsers.  We conduct a measurement study to determine how often it is used and on what categories of sites. Our results suggest that private browsing is used differently from how it is marketed.

We then describe an automated technique for testing the security of private browsing modes and report on a few weaknesses found in the Firefox browser.  Finally, we show that many popular browser extensions and plugins undermine the security of private browsing. We propose and experiment with a workable policy that lets users safely run extensions in private browsing mode.  PDF file (15 pages)

Discussion questions:

1. Do you use “private browsing”

2. If you do use “private browsing” which browsers and add-ons, extensions, plugins, etc. do you use?

3. Did you place any confidence in the “private browsing” claims previous to reading about this research?

16 thoughts on “Not so “private browsing”

  1. At the home front, I have no one to hide from. But to blog anonymously, I must hide myself from co-workers. In lieu of privacy mode, I simply never use any work computers. :-)

  2. I must be tired because I have no clue what private browsing is and therefore have never used. So no danger of being breached then! As always you raise important topics.

    • Hi Sandra,
      This will explain it: Privacy mode, sometimes informally referred to as “porn mode”, is a term that refers to privacy features in some web browsers. Historically speaking, web browsers store information such as browsing history, images, videos and text within cache. …
      en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Private_browsing

  3. Cool post and I like your hair. I am new to blogging I just started one on here yesterday. Could you point me in the direction of getting like minded people to start looking at and commenting on my blog? Thanks!

  4. I have not yet used this feature within Internet explorer.

    However I can see how many companies may be tempted to look into this if they don’t want to invest in search engine software for searching across multiple intranet(s) and internal blogs. I realize it’s not part of the study but I have always wondered about google search service which companies can buy and apply it as a search engine for strictly only their internal information respositories.

    • Hello there Jean,
      It’s good to hear from you. This research was restricted only to browsers and extensions and add-ons for browsers.

      P.S. I’m still enjoying my vacation. I’ve had 15 visitors in less than a month and have more arriving this weekend. I LOVE summer.

  5. @TiTi

    I’ve never felt the need to use the ‘private browsing’ feature in FF or Chrome. I switch between these browsers regularly. I like the way you can clear all sensitive data from FF upon closing the browser and Chrome offers the same ‘clearing’ options as FF. However Chrome has a way of collecting your browsing habits in ways FF does not. One example is the search meets URL address bar you can search from within the universal locator. Convenient of course but it’s sending a ton of info back to Google. A quick Google search tells you how to disable the features that gather and send all data back to Mountain View. With that being said if you have to use ‘private browsing’ to cover over websites you don’t want anyone to know you’re visiting then don’t visit them in the first place. I understand too people may use ‘private browsing’ to protect sensitive personal/financial information.

    I find Google to be a great resource in so many ways beyond being a ‘search engine’, but at the same time Google is a little spooky. Be that as it may I can not imagine life without Google. I use minimal addons and extensions in both browsers. I’m always trying new extensions but often don’t find them very useful and uninstall them. I do keep AdBlock+ installed and a few blogging and social networking extensions. I think there is no real anonymity on the web. You just need to be careful which neighborhoods you visit. Thanks for this post and the pdf.
    Continued Success!
    Jaco

    • Hi Jaco,
      I’m have never had a need to use “private browsing”. Like you I use only a minimal number of browser extensions and add-ons. The one I won’t ever be likely to give up is AdBlockPlus.
      Best wishes with your blog. :)

  6. Hi! I wonder, if a user has been inactive in four years, is there any posibility that you can erase it? I really want the name of the blog that he, or she, has.

  7. I have never used this feature before nor have I thought about it. As far as using the private browser feature for buying gifts, I thought that was a good idea but then again, hubby have never used my PC.

    BTW, the PDF file link is not working.

    • @funkkeejooce
      Thanks for letting me know I had bOrked the link. I have now fixed it. Like you I am not into private browsing. I just haven’t seen the need to use it.

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