Your graphics card can reveal your location and browsing activities in 8 seconds thanks to a new hack

Researchers have developed a new fingerprinting method that targets the GPU in a system. The method is able to track the location of targeted users as well as their online activities better than any existing tracking technology.

(Image: Reuters)

STRONG POINTS

  • A new device identification technique has been described in a research paper that uses remote GPU fingerprinting.
  • The technique is called DrawnApart and can identify a device in less than 8 seconds.
  • The technique can even differentiate between GPUs of the same make and model.

There has been a gigantic increase in an average internet user’s digital fingerprints with rapid scanning. A new study now adds a new and rather unconventional method to this list. It indicates that users can be traced through the graphics cards they use on their systems.

The research comes from an international team of researchers and has now been published on the online open access archive Arxiv.org. He talks about a new technique called “GPU fingerprinting” that can help locate a target by mapping their system’s GPU performance.

The technology that enables this tracking was named DrawnApart by the researchers. It works by mapping the small differences between each GPU unit. Since all graphics cards have these minute differences, the technique is able to distinctly mark a unit by analyzing them and thus track down a target system and its user.

In their paper, the researchers claim that the technique can track individual users and even map their online activity. As spotted by Bleeping Computer, the article also features an actual demonstration of this GPU fingerprinting technique. Obtaining highly accurate results from the technique, the researchers actually found it to be an upgrade over existing fingerprinting techniques.

In fact, DrawnApart worked so well that it fingerprinted a graphics card in eight seconds. This was noted as a 67% improvement over current fingerprinting methods other than DrawnApart. The results come from a sample of over 2,500 unique devices and 371,000 fingerprints.

How does DrawApart work?

As mentioned, DrawnApart relies on the minute differences between hardware components, even if they are of the same brand. It uses a JavaScript-based cross-platform application programming interface (API) capable of rendering graphics on compatible web browsers.

These APIs target GPU shaders with a sequence of graphics operations specially designed for the task. The responses of these Execution Units (UEs) are then timed for each render job, ultimately resulting in an accurate fingerprint trace. The article points out that the technique can even differentiate between units of the same make and model.

The researchers note the pros and cons of the technology. On the plus side, it can be used to accurately detect bots or help protect login processes. Improper use of the same can lead to a whole new way to track users and their browsing habits which is better than all common tracking methods. A technical study group made up of various industry stakeholders is now analyzing the research and its potential in more detail.

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