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Is there anything porn can’t do? Other than ruining the sexual wellbeing of multiple generations Pornography Addiction: The Hidden Struggle & How to Break Free [Feature] Pornography Addiction: The Hidden Struggle & How to Break Free [Feature] Anon22 discovered Internet porn when he was just 12 years old. For around 10 years, Anon22 has enjoyed pornography using his computer once or twice a day, a compulsion that he claims ruined his social... Read More , contributing to extreme warping of body images, and now somewhat commonly used as a disturbing revenge tactic against ex-partners Outrage Porn Is Making You Angry And Dumb, Stop Looking At It Outrage Porn Is Making You Angry And Dumb, Stop Looking At It Revenge porn is articles, pictures, cartoons or other media that are carefully crafted (either intentionally or not) to make people like you very offended, and very angry. Read More , you mean?

Well, it can even be used as a handy tool in the hackers’ array, and not just for the reasons you might think. Let’s take a look at where and why porn might a bigger vulnerability in your life than you think.

Pornographic Database Ransom

Most people closely guard their porn use. It isn’t something people regularly broadcast, and your viewing habits are certainly not something you’d want online in an easily itemized database. Perhaps that database would have columns listing the type of porn — teen, gay, MILF, etc. — and the number of times you’d watched a video of that nature.

Regardless of how a tool of that ilk might provide an engaging user experience, there are genuine issues with a colossal database of this type. In the UK, authorities recently banned the creation and distribution of pornography containing a number of things, all seemingly focused on a male-centric view of pornography. However, if the authorities discover we have been enjoying one of these banned forms, we’ll get a reprimand. Do it again, and we might get a fine.

There are many billions of individuals living under vastly more oppressive rule than we have in the UK. A person living in a country that wrongly penalizes homosexuality may watch some gay pornographic material. If their viewing habits were exposed, there is a potential that the individual could be sought out and punished, or worse. Not only do they live in fear of exposing their sexuality, they must closely guard any other indicators that might disclose their secret.

Possibility?

While there is a definite possibility that a hacker could in theory attack and liberate information linking pornographic search data to specific IP addresses, Cooper Quintin, staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, believes something different would happen:

“The far more likely scenario is just that a porn company gets hacked and credit-card data is stolen. If this were the case I think that an attacker would be more likely to sell the credit-card information than release it online ‘for the lulz'”

“I think a bigger concern is data brokers using your IP address to correlate data about what porn sites you visit with tracking profiles that they already have, even when browsing in ‘incognito mode.'”

Quintin’s final point brings us nicely onto ours.

Not-So-Incognito

These days, the majority of popular adult-content sites are largely malware free How Android Porn Malware Steals Your Data How Android Porn Malware Steals Your Data Malicious porn clicker Trojans are masquerading as duplicate apps, waiting to infect your Android device. How prevalent are they? What happens if you download one, and most importantly, how can you avoid them? Read More . There may be occasions where things slip through the net and we know that malvertising is an extremely popular threat delivery system in 2016. Even so, your chances of picking up something really bad on YouPorn or XVideos is slim.

However, something else is afoot.

Software engineer Bret Thomas believes Online Porn Could Be The Next Big Privacy Scandal. He leads his theory with a shocking premise:

“If you are watching/viewing porn online in 2015, even in Incognito mode, you should expect that at some point your porn viewing history will be publicly released Porn Viewing Habits Could Be the Next Big Leak: Here's What To Do Porn Viewing Habits Could Be the Next Big Leak: Here's What To Do A software engineer has recently warned that you should expect your Internet history, specifically any adult sites you've visited, to be leaked. What can you do about this? Read More and attached to your name

According to the Wall Street Journal, some 30 million Americans regularly watch porn. That’s quite a few. I’m sure those 30 million regular viewers do so using incognito mode to keep their search histories and consciences clear. We all love incognito mode, but even if your search and session history aren’t being stored locally for your family to find, they’re being stored elsewhere.

The internet is a tangled-web of pervasive trackers and browser fingerprinting used to build individual user profiles. These profiles follow us around the web, and provide advertisers with personalized information designed to serve better suited ads that we might actually click. At the very least, advertisers hope we head to a site of our own accord.

Thomas elaborates further on the technical considerations:

  • Browser footprints: Web browsers leave an essentially unique footprint every time you visit a web page, even in incognito mode (and even without supercookies). This is well established; many web tools such as Panopticlick will confirm that you give a website lots of information about your computer every time you visit.
  • Global identifiers: Linking your browser footprint on one website to your footprint on another website — or to a previous footprint on the same website — is straightforward. You should think of your browser footprint as a persistent global identifier, and this is particularly true if you don’t take any measures to hide your IP address (eg. a VPN). The EFF has an excellent technical overview of how this works.
  • User tracking: Tracking web users is super valuable, so almost every traditional website that you visit saves enough data to link your user account to your browser fingerprint, either directly or via third parties. The Economist ran an overview of user tracking in September. (Though, interestingly, there is no mention of adult websites.)
  • Hacking is ubiquitous: We hear about data breaches that involve tangible harm — Target, Anthem, TurboTax — but not the (likely great majority) of cases when hackers don’t want additional exposure. Or, paraphrasing the FBI director: There are two types of companies… those that know they’ve been hacked… and those that don’t know they’ve been hacked.

Third Party Requests

When you click on a link on a “regular” website, a number of things happen. The website you’re browsing receives the “first-party request” and hopefully delivers a webpage that you want to see. At the same time, you’re also sending third-party requests to the numerous advertising trackers linked to the site — think Google, Nielsen, Skimlinks etc. — so they can power their advertising with increasingly accurate links.

Porn sites are no different. 88% of the top 500 porn sites have third-party trackers installed on them. Aside from the standard Google Analytics plugin that most sites use to understand their metrics and demographics, you still send requests to web-tracking company AddThis, and another industry specific company, Pornvertising.

This is on top of the already accessible information you provide each site, such as your IP address, your location, your system hardware, which browser you’re using — even down to if your device is in hand, or sitting on a table.

The porn advertisers might not advertise their latest line of novelty dildos too you, but they can build accurate and detailed advertising profiles that can be easily shared with other companies.

Titillating Tantalizing Truth

Pornhub released a statement to Motherboard’s Brian Merchant, refuting Thomas’s assertions, calling them “not only completely false, but also dangerously misleading.” They also pointed out the absurd notion that they would actually physically store each and every user search requests. Receiving well over 300 million individual search requests a day, Pornhub estimate “storing all of that would require 3,600 terabytes,” not to mention the incredible amount of time it would take to actually sort through a database of that size.

“Pornhub’s raw server logs contain only the IP and the user agent for a very limited time, never a browser footprint”

As well as this, porn sites don’t actually care to keep what you’re viewing. They want to keep you on their site for as long as possible. They also want you to keep coming back, again, and again. Agitating their users through overly invasive tracking and permanent search history maintenance isn’t going to appeal to their potential and current users.

No, it is the advertising trackers that maintain the potentially devastatingly accurate picture of your browsing habits, through the good, bad, and repeated tub-girl viewings.

Has It Always Been This Way?

Pornographic sites have long been a primary source of potential computing issues. The September 1997 edition of The Atlantic reported on “an examination of the case brings to light some of the perils of our nascent electronic world — a world in which everything from “sites” to telephone calls to countries themselves is sometimes only virtual.”

The then relatively common Moldovan internet porn scam was reaching out from the depths of the Balkans and installing Trojan horse viruses via an infected viewer application. Remember, this is 1997. Users attempting to look at pictures of scantily clad ladies were required to “update” the viewer application, which in turn, downloaded and executed an unseen Trojan. 

“In the case involving Moldova, while the downloaded program was providing access to the pornographic photos, a hidden regiment of subcommands was ransacking the user’s computer. First the program ordered the volume on the computer’s speakers turned off, to prevent the usual telephonic sounds a modem makes. Then it hung up the line to which the modem was connected and dialed a number in Moldova. That call was answered by a computer that reconnected the user to the adult site. The promised photos — or at least one of them — finally appeared on the screen. The viewer had no idea that while he was looking at pictures he was paying for a transatlantic phone call.”

The internet you’re using is likely broadband. Depending on your age, you may have never actually used a dial-up modem; a truly glorious time to be alive. Internet users in countries without such advanced infrastructure can still be easily affected by scams like this. As those users are operating in countries without such an established Internet culture, knowledge of common scams and virus delivery methods can be understandably lacking.

Lock Everything Down

I end many articles questioning privacy, online tracking, and internet security with the words and suggestions you’re about to read.

The internet isn’t free, in more than one sense. We are the commodity. And the internet has evolved to facilitate a model that allows us to access the majority of information without much of a charge. Unless you take the requisite steps to protect your data, to protect your privacy 5 Ways Visiting Adult Websites Is Bad for Your Security & Privacy 5 Ways Visiting Adult Websites Is Bad for Your Security & Privacy While pornography is often discussed in the context of morality, there's a huge security-and-privacy angle that is often overlooked. If you know what to look out for, the safer you'll be. Read More , to protect your internet security, your actions will be tracked.

You should also consider where you head to access your adult content. The major sites are literally some of the biggest in the entire world. At the time of writing, XVideos was ranked #52 in the entire world; Pornhub is #61, meaning these sites command millions of users. Equally, there are many millions of porn sites that will be absolutely riddled with all kinds of malware and malicious trackers. It is easy to steer clear of the latter by using those popular sites.

No one can dictate your favorite forms of pornography. But we can advise on the safer places to view it. You might just save yourself some extremely unwanted attention in years to come.

Do you use tracking blockers while watching porn? Had you even considered it? Are you actually worried that your adult content delectations will appear on the Internet alongside your name? Let us know how you feel below!

  1. Jaden Peterson
    August 31, 2016 at 11:58 pm

    I don't watch porn, but I use Tor for everything I don't want the world or my ISP seeing

  2. Read and Share
    August 31, 2016 at 4:47 pm

    I wouldn't ever visit porn sites, of course, but... ummm... a friend of mine does, and she uses Adblock and Ghostery, in addition to setting her browser to block 3rd party cookies.

    • Jaden Peterson
      August 31, 2016 at 11:59 pm

      Tell her she should use Tor. Her ISP, her router, and all the websites she visits can see it.

      • Read and Share
        September 1, 2016 at 12:06 am

        Umm, I just passed this piece of info to my friend, and umm, she said that was a stupid idea and it's totally ridiculous to watch 'video documentaries' through TOR! Not that I know for sure, but she might have tried TOR before and it just didn't work for her.

  3. Howard A Pearce @HAPLibertarian
    August 31, 2016 at 3:25 pm

    The U.K. clearly violated the concept of Freedom of Communication with its attempt to ban/prohibit some pornography - regardless of the form of communication - internet, speech, or press.

    The privacy promises/agreements with ISP's or other internet sites/services should be a concern before using these - but are mostly your obligation to check as I see it.

    More concerning to me are recent attempts by the government (at least in the U.S.) to force internet services/providers to hand over history data of users in general in the name of national security.

    Hacking is always going to be a problem probably.

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