The CNAME of the Game: Large-scale Analysis of DNS-based Tracking Evasion [article]

Yana Dimova, Gunes Acar, Lukasz Olejnik, Wouter Joosen, Tom Van Goethem
2021 arXiv   pre-print
Online tracking is a whack-a-mole game between trackers who build and monetize behavioral user profiles through intrusive data collection, and anti-tracking mechanisms, deployed as a browser extension, built-in to the browser, or as a DNS resolver. As a response to pervasive and opaque online tracking, more and more users adopt anti-tracking tools to preserve their privacy. Consequently, as the information that trackers can gather on users is being curbed, some trackers are looking for ways to
more » ... vade these tracking countermeasures. In this paper we report on a large-scale longitudinal evaluation of an anti-tracking evasion scheme that leverages CNAME records to include tracker resources in a same-site context, effectively bypassing anti-tracking measures that use fixed hostname-based block lists. Using historical HTTP Archive data we find that this tracking scheme is rapidly gaining traction, especially among high-traffic websites. Furthermore, we report on several privacy and security issues inherent to the technical setup of CNAME-based tracking that we detected through a combination of automated and manual analyses. We find that some trackers are using the technique against the Safari browser, which is known to include strict anti-tracking configurations. Our findings show that websites using CNAME trackers must take extra precautions to avoid leaking sensitive information to third parties.
arXiv:2102.09301v3 fatcat:ucd3y42ktvgdrekyxkhaofekn4