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Campus Currents May 2007: Volume 4, Number 2

Are You Being Sniffed?

If so, it can be dangerous to your digital health. History sniffing is when your private web-browsing history is accessed. UC San Diego computer scientists recently showed how often it occurs.

History sniffing can happen when you land on a website that is running a malicious chunk of JavaScript. This computer programming code can determine what other websites you have visited by checking link colors. Blue means you have not visited a site and purple means you have.

Advertising companies can employ this information to build user profiles and, if criminals learn what banking site you visit, it can help them create a fake banking page to serve up during phishing attacks, aimed at collecting bank account login information.

Of the top 50,000 websites, the computer scientists led by UCSD Ph.D. student Dongseok Jang found that 485 sites inspected link colors, and 46 of these transferred browser history information over the Internet.

Not interested in getting history-sniffed? Update to a browser that has closed the history sniffing loophole, including the latest version of Chrome, Firefox or Safari—or wait for an upcoming new version of Internet Explorer. And while you’re at it, download the latest Adobe Flash plug-ins.

—Daniel Kane