Private browsing, privacy mode or incognito mode is a privacy feature in some web browsers to disable browsing history and the web cache. This allows a person to browse the Web without storing local data that could be retrieved at a later date. Privacy mode will also disable[dubious ] the storage of data in cookies and Flash cookies. This privacy protection is only within the browser application as it may leave traces on the hard drive and memory of the device, or via websites by associating the IP address at the web server.
The earliest reference to private browsing was in May 2005, and was used to discuss the privacy features in the Safari browser bundled with Mac OS X Tiger. The feature has since been adopted in other browsers, and led to popularization of the term in 2008 by mainstream news outlets and computing websites when discussing beta versions of Internet Explorer 8. However, privacy modes operate as shields because browsers typically do not remove all data from the cache after the session. Plug-ins, like Silverlight, are able to set cookies that will not be removed after the session.
The common web browser plugin Adobe Flash Player began supporting privacy mode in Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Safari with the release of version 10.1 in June 2010.. Some browsers (like Internet Explorer 8) allow users to select the privacy mode for single tabs, whereas others create a more isolated environment protected by password and cryptography.
The Mozilla Foundation performed a study about the user behavior when the feature is switched on and how long the session lasts. The results were that most sessions last only about 10 minutes, though there are periods where activation increases; usually around 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., 5 p.m., between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m., and a minor peak about an hour or two after midnight.
Private browsing is known by different names in different browsers.
|April 29, 2005||Safari 2.0||Private Browsing|
|December 11, 2008||Google Chrome 1.0||Incognito|
|March 19, 2009||Internet Explorer 8||InPrivate Browsing|
|June 30, 2009||Mozilla Firefox 3.5||Private Browsing|
|March 2, 2010||Opera 10.50||Private Tab / Private Window|
|November 18, 2014||Amazon Silk||Private Browsing|
|July 29, 2015||Microsoft Edge||InPrivate Browsing|
In 2012, Brazilian researchers published the results of a research project where they applied forensic techniques (namely the Foremost data carving tool and Strings program) to extract information about the users browsing activities on Internet Explorer and Firefox browsers with their private mode enabled. They were able to collect enough data to identify pages visited and even partially reconstruct them.
This research was later extended to include Chrome and Safari browsers. The gathered data proved that browsers' private mode implementations are not able to fully hide users' browsing activities and that browsers in private mode leave traces of activities in caching structures and files related to the paging process of the operating system.
Another independent security analysis, performed by a group of researchers at Newcastle University in 2014, shows a range of security vulnerabilities in the implementation of the private mode across four major browsers (IE, Firefox, Chrome and Safari). The results are summarized below.
In 2010, professors at Stanford University found that while Firefox won't record your history during a private browsing session, it still records the sites on which you've installed SSL certificates (which enable secure, encrypted information exchange indicated by the "https" in front of the URL) and allows specific permissions. If you download an SSL certificate from a website or told that site specifically to stop displaying pop-ups and downloading cookies, all of that information is still stored on Firefox.
In 2015, researchers from Pennsylvania State University found that a considerable amount of extensions on Firefox violated the private browsing policy based on an investigation of the top 2,000 extensions. Many extensions maintain their own profile folders on the local machine, and most of them will not wipe the browsing data after the private browsing session ends. This violation even happens on some most popular extensions with millions of users on Firefox.
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