What is de-anonymization and how to prevent it?

Xiaobai Software  2022-09-13 13: 51  read 46 views

It's no secret that apps, search engines, websites, and even operating systems collect our data and sell it to the highest bidder.Giving up some privacy in order to use a piece of software is an acceptable compromise for most people, especially if the software is free.After all, this data cannot be used to personally identify you, right?

Unfortunately, this is not the case in practice.If not careful enough, each of us can be identified through a process called de-anonymization.So, what exactly is de-anonymization, and how can you protect yourself from it?


What is de-anonymization?

In simple terms, de-anonymization (also known as data re-identification) is a process that involves cross-referencing anonymized data with publicly available information in an effort to reveal the identity of an individual.

The term anonymized data is used to describe any data about a person that does not reveal personal information about them.So, for example, if you use a paid fitness app, the company behind it knows your name, address, and credit card number.This company may or may not sell your data to third parties, but if it does, it is legally obligated to anonymize the data.So the third party who ends up buying this data may know a thing or two about your interests and location, but not have access to information about your identity.


What are some good examples of de-anonymization?Arguably the best one involves the popular streaming platform Netflix, dating back to 2006.At the time, researchers at the University of Texas de-anonymized a large number of Netflix users by cross-referencing their movie ratings with reviews on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb).

Netflix removed reviewer profiles, such as names, and replaced them with random numbers, but that didn't help because the researchers cross-referenced the entire Netflix dataset with IMDb's ratings.They were able to de-anonymize some Netflix users by comparing Netflix's rankings and timestamps with publicly available information on IMDb (many IMDb users leave reviews using their real names).

If two researchers can do this for a scientific study, it's not hard to imagine what a competent threat actor could do, as long as they have access to data that is not sufficiently anonymized.For example, they can use stolen personal information for coercion and extortion, or even sell it on the dark web.

How to prevent deanonymization

It might be unfair to say that cybercriminals are always one step ahead of security experts, but they do keep coming up with new and creative ways to exploit the vulnerabilities of the systems we use every day.In other words, anonymity tools that work today may not work tomorrow, which is why a conscious effort to protect your privacy is critical.

Ditching Chrome or Edge for a more secure, private browser would be a good start, and good anti-malware protection is a must.But no software can protect you if you don't develop the habit of being cautious and mindful of how much information you reveal about yourself online.

No one has the time to read page after page of privacy policies before downloading an app to their smartphone or computer, but it doesn't hurt to do a little research before using an app, it's important to avoid those known Products that collect far more data than they should.

Be proactive and protect your personal data

Data is the gold of the 21st century, and companies are using more and more invasive techniques to collect it.Simply put, in order to protect your personal information, you need to be proactive.

The best way to do this is to develop basic but effective privacy habits and minimize your online sharing with companies and others.

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