New Chrome extension spots unencrypted tracking

TrackerSSL is aimed at alerting websites of insecure tracking via Twitter

TrackerSSL, a Chrome extension, identifies  third-party trackers on websites that are insecurely sending data across the Internet.

TrackerSSL, a Chrome extension, identifies third-party trackers on websites that are insecurely sending data across the Internet.

A new Chrome extension highlights tools embedded in websites that could pose privacy risks by sending data unencrypted over the Internet.

It's hard to find a major website that doesn't use a variety of third-party tracking tools for online advertising, social media and analytics. But if the trackers send data unencrypted, it is possible for those who have network-level access -- such as an ISP or government -- to spy on the data and use it for their own tracking.

It's partly the fault of websites that have not yet enabled HTTPS, which encrypts data sent between a computer and server, as well as companies that have not enabled it in their tracking tools.

Documents leaked by former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden showed the spy agency was using cookies in order to target users, according to a December 2013 report in the Washington Post. Cookies are small data files created by online trackers that are stored within a person's Web browser, recording information such as a person's browsing history.

The Chrome extension, called TrackerSSL, alerts users when a website is using insecure trackers and gives them an option of tweeting a message to the website letting it know of the issue. TrackerSSL was created by Open Effect, a digital privacy watchdog, and Citizen Lab, a technology-focused think tank at the University of Toronto.

"As demand for secure technology grows, most websites will not be able to protect their readers unless they stop using insecure ad trackers," wrote Andrew Hilts, executive director of Open Effect and a research fellow with Citizen Lab.

TrackerSSL shows a list of trackers embedded into a website. Websites that don't use HTTPS show more warnings, as some trackers would be more secure if it was used.

Other trackers simply don't ever encrypt data transmissions, which puts users at risk that data could be intercepted and misused.

"For content-driven websites such as online newspapers, such snooping can take the form of what's known as 'pattern of life analysis'," Hilts wrote. "Analysts may compile the web browsing history of a target and build the profile of a target by inferring from the target's lifestyle, demographics, political views and more."

For the best security, both the website and the individual trackers should use HTTPS. It's a tall order, especially for sites that use many trackers, and HTTPS can be tricky to set up sometimes. Hilts wrote that "if just one out of a dozen third-parties on a website do not use HTTPS, then a gaping security hole is left open."

Send news tips and comments to jeremy_kirk@idg.com. Follow me on Twitter: @jeremy_kirk

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags securityprivacyencryptionCitizen LabOpen Effect

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jeremy Kirk

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?