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article imageDigital noise: How a new web plugin hides your footsteps online

By James Walker     Apr 11, 2017 in Technology
A recently-launched browser plugin has introduced a new way to resist online tracking by creating "digital noise." Noiszy decreases the value of data collected by ISPs and advertisers by masking your activities with a "flood" of auto-generated web visits.
Noiszy's launch comes at a time when cybersecurity and online privacy is highly topical. Congress' repeal of its legislation designed to prevent broadband companies from selling personal data has created a surge of interest in the subject. As demand for privacy protection spikes, Noiszy is a new browser extension vying for your attention.
Creating digital noise
Noiszy's concept is surprisingly simple: data becomes less valuable if it's not accurate. Ad networks and ISPs hoover up your browsing history on the assumption you actually visited all the sites.
Noiszy adds some randomly-generated data to the mix, a step its creator says will let you start reclaiming your privacy. It's a small change but it makes all online data a little less meaningful, reducing its power when manipulated by governments and companies.
Noiszy for Chrome
Noiszy for Chrome
"If the power of our collective digital noise is harnessed and used judiciously, we can affect change," Noiszy's website states. "We can create an environment where responsible data collection and usage are held as standards of doing good business, and where data ethics are considered and promoted at all points along the digital journey."
Noiszy is currently only offered as a Chrome extension. The team is working on versions for other browsers and there's already a method available to get it working on Firefox. Once it's installed, Noiszy resides in its own tab in your browser. When you turn it on, Noisy begins navigating between websites on its own, creating meaningless "noise" that reduces the value of your genuine browsing history.
The Noiszy sites
Noiszy sources websites from a list of pre-approved domains. At present, it can't randomly select sites, a decision the team says was necessary to keep Noiszy relevant to the current state of the web. The extension has to be based on a controlled selection of sites to have a near-term impact on how browsing history is collected.
The Syrian Electronic Army claimed responsibility for hacking some of US broadcaster CNN's soci...
The Syrian Electronic Army claimed responsibility for hacking some of US broadcaster CNN's social media accounts
Lionel Bonaventure, AFP/File
The current list entries cover a wide range of sites from different viewpoints, including the entire political spectrum. While this could lead to your browser "visiting" pages you don't align with, this is required for Noiszy to properly mask your history. It is possible to disable sites when enabling the extension but doing so reduces its effectiveness.
Noiszy is planning to keep updating and modifying the list of sites the plugin picks from. It's possible to submit requests for a site to be added by reaching out on Twitter or using the contact form.
Rolling a die
After turning on Noiszy, the extension will randomly select a starting site from the sites list and load it in a new browsing tab. It will then wait approximately a minute, simulating a human user reading the content. Once the time has expired, Noiszy will navigate to a random on-page link pointing to the same domain. The process will be repeated a second time.
File photo: Moscow-based internet security giant Kaspersky has estimated that there are over 1 000 h...
File photo: Moscow-based internet security giant Kaspersky has estimated that there are over 1,000 hackers in Russia specialising in financial crime
Kirill Kudryavtsev, AFP/File
On the next run, Noiszy decides whether to keep browsing the site or switch to another one from the list. After waiting a minute on the second webpage, it will make a die roll to determine its next move. In three quarters of the cases, it will stay on the current site. In the remaining quarter, it will start from scratch, picking a new site to visit for at least the next two visits.
This process appears to undermine Noizy's premise. Because the mechanism is highly algorithmic and relies on predictable steps, parties intent on tracking users could detect the pattern in Noiszy's sequence and filter out the noise.
What Noiszy doesn't do
Although Noiszy is meant to mask the tracks you make online, it won't obscure them completely. Noiszy conceals your activities by making you appear to visit additional sites. It's very different to the browsing history deletion and encryption tactics used by other digital privacy boosters.
US intelligence agencies have accused Russia of hacking the 2016 presidential campaign
US intelligence agencies have accused Russia of hacking the 2016 presidential campaign
Noiszy also takes care to ensure it doesn't tamper with your own browsing activity. The extension won't access or modify any data from tabs you're using, interfere with persistent website sessions or otherwise impact the browser.
Noiszy can't be used to overwhelm certain websites with traffic either. Although it acts like a bot, it creates real traffic from actual web browsers. The extension's creators believe Noiszy won't have an impact on the page views or ad revenue of the sites it visits. Ad providers only pay out when their content is clicked so it's "highly unlikely" domains will receive any income when Noiszy pays a visit.
The need for Noiszy
Noiszy's launch comes amid a renewal of interest in personal data safeguards. The recent waves of news on net neutrality, cyberattacks and government surveillance have made web users more aware of the prevalence and extent of digital tracking, increasing demand for ways to stay hidden online.
This is just one day s worth of global hacking.
This is just one day's worth of global hacking.
PC World
Despite their popularity, traditional strategies are becoming increasingly ineffective. It's this fact that Noiszy acknowledges and seeks to address. It accepts we've collectively lost control of where our data is tracked, how it's stored and what it's used for. The extension introduces a new way of keeping governments and ISPs at bay: reducing the value of the "in the wild" data they harvest.
Noiszy represents a new solution to the problem of mass surveillance and digital tracking. It has already seen significant success, sparking widespread debate on the issues it helps solve within hours of its launch.
Noiszy is available today in the Chrome Web Store. Its source code will be released in the future, allowing other software developers to inspect its algorithms and contribute to the project.
More about noiszy, Cybersecurity, Privacy, Fcc, digital noise
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