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Re: [perpass] HTTP user-agent fingerprinting

From: David Morris <dwm@xpasc.com>
Date: Fri, 13 Sep 2013 13:28:57 -0700 (PDT)
To: Patrick Pelletier <code@funwithsoftware.org>
cc: Stephen Farrell <stephen.farrell@cs.tcd.ie>, "'HTTP Working Group'" <ietf-http-wg@w3.org>, perpass@ietf.org
Message-ID: <alpine.LRH.2.01.1309131315560.15380@egate.xpasc.com>

I think you'll have a very hard time convincing web developers that they
can solve the browser bug issues with this approach. The User-Agent string
is an awful hack, but it has clasically allowed creativity on web sites
which wouldn't be possible if the web sites were forced to conform to
the LCD. In addition, I've noticed that some plug-ins add their version
information to the UA String so that down stream processes will know
about the specific features.

Web developers need pretty specific knowledge about browsers and their
enviornment. I would be hard to convince that any alternative mechanism
which provided the platform target profile that web apps need wouldn't 
expose the user to the same or worse issues re. fingerprinting.

On Fri, 13 Sep 2013, Patrick Pelletier wrote:

> Forwarding this idea along to httpbis as you (Stephen) suggested.  Although
> this could be retrofitted onto existing HTTP, not just httpbis, since it's
> merely recommending practices which are already legal in HTTP.
> On Sep 13, 2013, at 5:17 AM, Stephen Farrell wrote:
> > On 09/13/2013 04:12 AM, Patrick Pelletier wrote:
> > > On 9/12/13 1:18 PM, Dave Crocker wrote:
> > > 
> > > >   "privacy properties of IETF protocols and concrete ways in which
> > > >    those could be improved."
> > > 
> > > One obvious thing is the amount of (usually unnecessary) information
> > > leaked by the User-Agent field in HTTP.
> > > 
> > > Should we downgrade the User-Agent field (section 14.43 of RFC 2616)
> > > from a SHOULD to a MAY?
> > 
> > I think everyone finds those values problematic, and not only for
> > privacy reasons. But yes, if you believe [1] then its probably the
> > biggest contributor to browser fingerprinting that's in an IETF
> > spec. (No idea if that site's evaluation is sound myself though.)
> > 
> >  [1] https://panopticlick.eff.org/
> > 
> > > Or, if that's too radical, should we standardize a small number of fixed
> > > strings to use in the User-Agent field?  (For example, "Desktop/1.0" for
> > > desktop browsers, "Mobile/1.0" for mobile browsers, "Text/1.0" for text
> > > browsers like Lynx, "Batch/1.0" for non-interactive clients like curl
> > > which are performing a task more specific than crawling the web, and
> > > "Robot/1.0" for clients which are crawling the web?)
> > 
> > Interesting. An IANA registry of those kinds of value might just end
> > up like the UA string though, which also started out nice and simple.
> I agree that things always start out simple and get messy.  However, I think
> there are some differences:
> * The original User-Agent field was not designed with privacy in mind.  In
> fact, it was designed specifically to identify the product and version the
> user is using.  So, with a different goal (privacy first), we will hopefully
> get different results.
> * By specifying only a single product token, omitting comments, and fixing the
> version number at 1.0, we've already eliminated a fair amount of information.
> And then we further limit the information by making the product name not the
> actual name of the software, but merely a generic indication of the type of
> User-Agent; whatever is the minimal amount of information necessary for any
> legitimate browser sniffing that needs to occur.  (Such as differentiating
> desktop and mobile clients.)
> And, of course, using the simplified User-Agent strings was just one of my two
> proposals.  My other proposal, which was even simpler, though perhaps more
> radical, was to downgrade the requirement on User-Agent from SHOULD to MAY,
> and encourage browsers not to send User-Agent at all.  (We could even change
> it to a SHOULD NOT if we feel really heavy-handed.)  One could argue that by
> using other techniques such as responsive layout, no browser sniffing should
> be necessary at all.
> > Maybe ask this on httpbis if you don't get more feedback here? That's
> > where you'd find folks who know if it could be done and who could do
> > it.
> --Patrick
Received on Friday, 13 September 2013 20:29:35 UTC

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