Private browsing modes not as private as one might wish

The four most used web browsers – Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome and Safari – all have private browsing modes. Yes, they are designed to delete the most obvious signs of online activity such as cookies, browsing history and the browser’s cache, but is that enough to keep your surfing habits hidden from interested parties?

Four researchers from Stanford and Carnegie Mellon Universities asked the same question and decided to search for an answer. They are currently slated to present the results of their research at the 19th USENIX Security Symposium next week.

The BBC reports that to test the functioning of private browsing modes, the researchers used specially crafted adverts that make a note of the state of the machine used, and discovered that private browsing is used most often by people visiting adult sites.

Among the most interesting results is the fact that private browsing modes work well in theory, but that their successful performance is often undermined by the influence of additional web site security (such as systems protecting data flow during online purchase) and browser plug-ins and add-ons whose log information is rarely (if ever) deleted.

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