March 1, 2013 2 Comments
Have you ever wondered how many sites have your credit card number? Or, have you ever wondered how many sites have a certain version of your password? Do you think you might have reused the password you have used on your banking Web site on another site? What if you decided that you wanted to “clean up” your personal information on some of the sites where you’ve leaked this information. Would you even know where to start?
If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, then Appu is the tool for you. Appu is a Chrome extension developed by my Ph.D. student Yogesh Mundada that keeps track of what we call your privacy footprint on the Web. Every time you enter personally identifiable information (address, credit card information, password, etc.) into a Web site, Appu performs a cryptographic hash of that information, associates the hash with that site, and stores it, to keep track of where you have entered various information. If you ever re-enter the same password on a different site, Appu will warn you that you have reused a password and where you’ve re-used that password. As a user, you will immediately see a warning like the one below:
You might be wondering: “Why should I trust your Chrome extension with the passwords that I enter on various sites?” The good news is that you do not have to trust Appu with your passwords and personal information to use this tool, because Appu never sends your information anywhere in cleartext. Before sending a report to us, Appu performs what is called a cryptographic hash on all of your information. It also only stores a cryptographic hash of each password locally; no passwords are ever stored in cleartext, anywhere. If you ever enter the same password elsewhere, the result of performing a cryptographic hash on your password would produce the same unreadable output—therefore, Appu never knows what your password is, only that you’ve reused it. Appu stores your other personal information in cleartext locally on your machine so that you can see which sites have which values of various personal information, but it never sends that information in the clear to us. Appu always asks the user before sending any information to us, and the tool also gives the user the option to delete anything from the reports that Appu sends to us. If you still want to assure yourself that Appu is not doing anything suspect, you can read the source code.
Appu can help users keep track of the following information:
- Password reuse. Have I reused the same password across multiple sites? If so, on which sites have I used the same password?
- Privacy footprint. Which sites have a copy of my full name and address (or other information)? What specific information have I provided to those sites?
- Password strength. Have I used a weak password for my online bank account? (Or other Web site)
- Password stagnancy. When was the last time I changed my password on a particular site?
In addition to the pop-up information that users see, as above, Appu also provides reports to allow users to keep track of answers to these questions. The figures below show two examples of this. The figure on the left shows the privacy footprint page, where a user can see which sites have stored personal information (e.g., name, email address); the figure on the right shows more detailed information, such as the last time a user changed his or her password. That report also tells a user how often they’ve visited a site—therefore, Appu can help you figure out that even though you’ve only visited a site once, that site is storing sensitive information, such as your credit card number (hopefully spurring you to go clean up your personal information on that site).
Our hope is that Appu will help users better manage their online privacy footprints, thereby better managing the risks that they potentially expose themselves to through password reuse.
We initially released Appu through a private alpha release, to about ten close friends. Even in this small sample size, we can observe interesting aggregate behavior. Users are far more cavalier about their personal information than we expected. For example, we have observed the following behaviors:
- Although users are less forthcoming with their credit card information, they are surprisingly forthcoming about what one might otherwise think is private information, such as religious views.
- People often share passwords across “high-value” (e.g., Amazon) and “low-value” (e.g., TripIt) sites.
- Many users have revealed personal information (e.g., address, credit card information) to sites they rarely visit, or have visited only once.
- Several users had weak passwords on their banking sites that could be cracked in less than one day.
Are you one of these users who needs to clean up their online privacy footprint? Download and install the Appu Chrome extension to find out! As Appu gains a larger user base, we will follow up with more discoveries about users’ behavior regarding their online privacy footprint. We are actively developing a Firefox version of Appu; please join the appu-users mailing list if you want to get updates aboutversion releases, news about support for other browsers.
(And yes, in case you are wondering, this project is being thoroughly reviewed by Georgia Tech’s Institutional Review Board.)