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Sensor Characteristics Uniquely Identify Individual Phones

Soulskill posted 1 year,19 days | from the your-accelerometer-has-betrayed-you dept.

Cellphones 69

An anonymous reader writes "SFGate reports that Stanford researchers have figured out a way to generate a unique fingerprint from a cell phone's suite of built-in sensors. The tiny accelerometers, gyroscopes, microphones, and speakers in cell phones have characteristics that vary slightly from handset to handset, and these variations may contain enough information to uniquely identify a given handset. How that information might get from the phone to a third party varies (the article describes a JavaScript snippet reading the Z-axis accelerometer, though it says little about how the user might block such information from being read), but the possibility for abuse is certainly troubling."

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Great! (3, Funny)

nospam007 (722110) | 1 year,19 days | (#45100721)

Now I have to drop my phone from time to time to fool the NSA.

Re:Great! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45100805)

***NSA*** is the troll of the year. You are already giving shitloads of information to apple and/or google/ facebook. and agreed to do so in the TOS.

I think you should bomb the facebook for that... wait.. i said bookmark, not bomb... ai

CARRIER LOST...

Re:Great! (1)

buzzsawddog (1980902) | 1 year,19 days | (#45101065)

Shoot... I already drop my phone enough as it is. There is no way the NSA spy tools on it will work properly, unless they have a compensation for that...

Re:Great! (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45101511)

I'm safe. My Sanyo SCP-2700 doesn't have any gyroscopes or accelerometers.
And I'm sure it can't run the JavaScript in question.

Re:Great! (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,18 days | (#45104425)

I used to be like you, until volunteering on the Obama campaign in 2008 changed my life.

... nothing new. (4, Interesting)

nbvb (32836) | 1 year,19 days | (#45100775)

Cell phones have been identifiable by RF fingerprinting for many, many years.

Was a common anti-fraud technique in the analog cellular days.

Re:... nothing new. (4, Interesting)

Shoten (260439) | 1 year,19 days | (#45100901)

Cell phones have been identifiable by RF fingerprinting for many, many years.

Was a common anti-fraud technique in the analog cellular days.

Yes, but RF fingerprinting requires proximity to the cell phone. This is a form of fingerprinting that can be done to large population en masse from pretty much anywhere. This is actually something *very* new.

Re:... nothing new. (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45101671)

> This is actually something *very* new.

You hope!

Re:... nothing new. (2)

TheCarp (96830) | 1 year,19 days | (#45101843)

> This is actually something *very* new.

Is it? How long has your phone had a camera?

2008: http://gizmodo.com/5092582/digital-photos-act-as-unique-fingerprints-in-finding-criminals-with-digital-cameras [gizmodo.com]

2006: https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2006/04/digital_cameras.html [schneier.com]

Doesn't seem very new, most phones have pictures they took already on them, those that don't, its not terribly hard to make them snap photos usually. In fact, other malware apps have been developed to do exactly that:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2211108/Could-phones-camera-secretly-taking-pictures-right-Hackers-use-lens-steal-private-data--build-3D-model-home.html [dailymail.co.uk]

Re:... nothing new. (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,18 days | (#45103561)

And yet still no phone (or tablet, laptop, etc) has built-in lens covers for its built-in camera(s).

How hard is it to add a piece of plastic to slide over the camera lens?

Almost makes you think that someone doesn't want consumers to be able to cover their remotely-accessible cameras.

Re:... nothing new. (2)

Solandri (704621) | 1 year,18 days | (#45103701)

Each phone already has a unique IMEI or IMSI [wikipedia.org] to distinguish it from other phones, so no it's not very new.

What makes this different is it means an app could uniquely identify your phone even if you blocked it from accessing your IMEI or refused to install apps which access the IMEI, in a bid to stay anonymous.

Re: ... nothing new. (1)

nbvb (32836) | 1 year,18 days | (#45106779)

Depends on your definition of proximity.

RF fingerprinting requires the phone to be somewhere cellular coverage is available.

Not too many places outside Antarctica (and not even there) where that's not the case.

Uh, so what? (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45100781)

The possibility for abuse is troubling. Really?

Android: android.telephony.TelephonyManager.getDeviceId()
iOS: NSString* uniqueID = [UIDevice currentDevice].uniqueIdentifier;
WindPhone: Dunno don't do anything for it, I assume it's part of the API as well.

So yes, tell me more about this "troubling" ability to build a fingerprint of questionable accuracy on a device to uniquely ID it even when you can just READ THE UNIQUE DEVICE ID right from it to start with.

Re:Uh, so what? (1)

Rosyna (80334) | 1 year,19 days | (#45100815)

The iOS version no longer works.

Re:Uh, so what? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45100945)

It isn't such a big problem if you don't let the device talk to google, facebook, etc. If you do allow that, you really want to be raped anyway, so suit yourself.

Re:Uh, so what? (1)

P-niiice (1703362) | 1 year,19 days | (#45101253)

As bad as letting the big data companies have your whole life is the fact that Americans are becoming paranoid.

Re:Uh, so what? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45102127)

Paranoid Americans is a GOOD thing! A few more people are actually waking up to the $hit that is happening.

Re:Uh, so what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,18 days | (#45103611)

It's not paranoia if they really are out to get you.

Re: Uh, so what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45102141)

This can already be done easily using cookies. Sites do it all over. You can't access a unique I'd but you can generate one and save it as a cookie

Re: Uh, so what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45102173)

A web site is performing this fingerprinting, not an Android application.

Re: Uh, so what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,18 days | (#45104205)

A web site is performing this fingerprinting, not an Android application.

HAHAHAHA No.

From the article: "Code running on the website in the device’s mobile browser"
If you don't see the problem with that statement then I can't help you.

Anyhow, the point is that in order to get the sensor data to even SEND to the remote site, the app has to have access to it. And in almost all cases, an app which can read the sensor data can also get the phone's unique ID number. So why build a 'fingerprint' (which hasn't even been proven to be unique, or at all effective in a real world scenario) when you have a unique ID already built in and waiting to be read? Sure, it's something to think about, but it's hardly something to lose sleep over at night.

Re: Uh, so what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,18 days | (#45107361)

I don't see the problem with that statement...

How long ... (4, Insightful)

gstoddart (321705) | 1 year,19 days | (#45100783)

How long before we have Minority Report type crimes?

"Sir, you're going to have to have to come with us. Our metadata surveillance indicates you are likely to commit a crime, and our tracking of your phone indicates you were recently at a hardware store. We need to take you to the internment camp."

Some days I just want to turn into Reg the Blank and hide.

When they can know everything about you even when you've done nothing wrong, you're not so much free anymore as you are being allowed to pretend you are until such time as they decide to cart you off.

Re:How long ... (2)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | 1 year,19 days | (#45101051)

Why would you carry your phone when attempting to commit a crime in the first place? (Or why would anyone want to carry any phone anywhere in the zeroth place...)

Re:How long ... (2)

buzzsawddog (1980902) | 1 year,19 days | (#45101085)

Because people look at me weird when I break out my Handheld Ham Radio when I am in the store to talk to my wife... Also, people seem to think because I have a radio that I must know where to find size 20 for their kid and get pissed when I say I dont work there. "Then why do you have a radio!"

Re:How long ... (1)

KermodeBear (738243) | 1 year,19 days | (#45102009)

Absolutely, so that I can tweet about it while I'm there and upload pictures to Facebook.

Re:How long ... (2)

lxs (131946) | 1 year,19 days | (#45102069)

I don't want to be identified as one of those phoneless criminals I read about on Slashdot.

Re:How long ... (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | 1 year,19 days | (#45102381)

I don't want to be identified as one of those phoneless criminals I read about on Slashdot.

It's better to be a phoney criminal, then? ;-)

Re:How long ... (1, Insightful)

Dr. Zim (21278) | 1 year,19 days | (#45102277)

Because we're not all judgmental pricks that think our way is the only way to live. When my 81 year old mother needs a ride to the store, I want her to call me. When my daughter misses the bus home and I'm at a client site, I want her to call me. Just because you're happy to be incommunicado, doesn't make that an option for people with responsibilities. Go pat yourself on the back for being a Ludite and crawl back in your hole.

Re:How long ... (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | 1 year,19 days | (#45102349)

I'm not a Luddite, it's just that in line with RMS, I simply think that even nowadays, many a person can still have a normal life without exposing himself to constant tracking. Also please rescind from talking about "judgmental pricks" while at the same time using the words "incommunicado", "people with responsibilities", "Luddite" and "crawl back in your hole" in the very same post. It sort of smells of hypocrisy.

Just like in Red October (-1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45100811)

You know the scene, where the sonar guy is teaching the kid how to separate "biologics" (whales) from enemy subs. God, what a great movie. RIP Tom Clancy. Baldwin was perfect for the Ryan part, none of the guys that followed came a close to the books (although even in the books things started to get weird with Clear and Present Danger...).

Re:Just like in Red October (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45103061)

The sonar guy went on to become an ADA in New York.

Interesting... (0)

Shoten (260439) | 1 year,19 days | (#45100893)

"Code running on the website in the device’s mobile browser"

So what I'd like to know is this (for all you people out there who write web code for mobile devices): what are the differences between what access different platforms give to those sensors? Obviously Android provides all the access that's needed; the example in the article refers to it working on a Galaxy Nexus. But what about Windows Mobile/IOS/Blackberry? Do they all have APIs to expose that functionality to something running in a browser, given that some of those platforms lack either java or shockwave/flash?

Re: Interesting... (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45102205)

It's just JavaScript events. Handset-related events encompass those sensors PLUS the touch screen.

Yawn.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45100931)

"Uniquely identify a given handset"?
The MAC. QED.

Re:Yawn.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45100993)

Does the MAC ever leave the local network? (Honest question; from my understanding it is only needed in the local network, so propagating it further makes no sense, but then, I'm no networking expert)

Re:Yawn.... (3, Informative)

BradleyUffner (103496) | 1 year,19 days | (#45101061)

Does the MAC ever leave the local network? (Honest question; from my understanding it is only needed in the local network, so propagating it further makes no sense, but then, I'm no networking expert)

It does if an app running on the phone sends it outside the network.

Re:Yawn.... (2)

Aaden42 (198257) | 1 year,19 days | (#45101365)

And here I lose some karma for being an Apple fanboi, but...

At least in recent iOS, the device’s MAC addresses (both BT and WiFi) are not accessible to third-party apps. Best you can get is the new “advertising identifier” as of iOS 6.x which is unique only to the particular application and randomly generated for each app. So your app can track the user while it’s running, but you can’t correlate that to data collected from other apps nor is there any equivalent in a web-based app (other than plain old cookies).

Re:Yawn.... (1)

BradleyUffner (103496) | 1 year,18 days | (#45105693)

Most apps can't get the MAC on Android either. But rooting is becoming very popular, and applications running as root would have access to the MAC.

What is it with Scientists and Identifying Things? (2, Interesting)

dryriver (1010635) | 1 year,19 days | (#45101029)

A statistical analysis of your online writing-style identifies you. CCTV cameras identify you from your gait (the "way you walk"). And now your smartphone sensors give away what smartphone you are using (... useful to "backdoor" the device, I presume?). My question to these scientist: Why do you create this tech? Do you not care about the privacy of the common man, or indeed the technological future your children will be forced to live in? My 2 Cents on this, and similar efforts to "ID people"....

Re:What is it with Scientists and Identifying Thin (3, Insightful)

rasmusbr (2186518) | 1 year,19 days | (#45101155)

Because there are lots of people who want PhD:s, but not a lot of creativity to go around and even less funding to go around for creative and truly novel projects

You can bet that this has already been done in the industry so it's not like they're inventing anything that doesn't already exist.

By the way, it ought to be reasonably straightforward to get a fingerprint out of the totality of sensor data that a phone generates during the course of a week or so even if the sensors were flawless. After all, we all have different habits, different gaits, etc. Odds are someone is already doing that.

Almost complete agreement (1)

justthinkit (954982) | 1 year,19 days | (#45101503)

99% of us agree with you.

Re:Almost complete agreement (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45101595)

Citation needed...

Re:What is it with Scientists and Identifying Thin (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45101521)

IAMA scientist who creates such things. So here's my answer to your question: we create this kind of tech to allow law enforcement to identify individuals (in a very broad sense of all these terms), so we can lock them in (this is supposed to be very unsurprising).

If the tech in question is "fingerprint" (real ones, with your fingers), law enforcement is "police" (and not military/counter-terrorism/political) and individual is "criminal", I think pretty much everybody agrees that it is a good thing (you might be tempted to say otherwise, but imagine we're talking about someone you know/love having been assaulted/killed).

Crime happens where people are (e.g. homes, train stations, internet), and criminals use the same tools as we all do (e.g. screwdrivers, cutters, smartphones, etc.). If criminals move, law enforcement must be able to follow them (that's why police officers have powerful cars that exceed speed limits, btw). If the criminals start using smartphones, law enforcement starts using smartphones as a mean to identify/follow/[...] them. Or let them go - but this is something you'll have to explain to your children when they get robbed (or worse).

So, there is nothing new in creating new identification means - it has always happened, and will always do.

Now, the real concern is the way this kind of technology can be misused and abused (e.g. by governments or secret agencies). The question is not new at all, and people from all generations have had to take a stance on this - most of the times, in a democratic, free country, by going for a middle-ground approach (e.g. we collect the DNA of offenders, but are not allowed to keep them more than X years, and an independent supervisor makes sure the data does not leak, etc.)

Re:What is it with Scientists and Identifying Thin (1)

Aaden42 (198257) | 1 year,19 days | (#45101533)

Why do you create this tech?

The same reason that white hat security researchers look for holes in software. Sure, finding those holes and eventually releasing patches can help hackers identify exploits that might still be unpatched on some machines, but *not* finding those holes doesn’t mean they automatically go unfound. If a white hat didn’t find & announce it, there’s still a pretty good chance a black hat (or the NSA...) found it and is exploiting it in the wild. I’d honestly rather have a zero-day with a patch “coming soon” than have no idea there’s even a bug that’s being actively exploited without anyone knowing about it and no patch forthcoming.

Looking for this type of unique tracking capability in devices is valuable because it helps understand what the threat model of carrying one is. I’ve no doubt the NSA has a division looking for exactly this kind of “attack” against devices. If device & OS manufacturers care at all about privacy (debatable...), knowing this type of situation exists is the first step in attempting to mitigate it.

Re:What is it with Scientists and Identifying Thin (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45101875)

A statistical analysis of your online writing-style identifies you. CCTV cameras identify you from your gait (the "way you walk"). And now your smartphone sensors give away what smartphone you are using (... useful to "backdoor" the device, I presume?). My question to these scientist: Why do you create this tech? Do you not care about the privacy of the common man, or indeed the technological future your children will be forced to live in? My 2 Cents on this, and similar efforts to "ID people"....

The very same ideas are used in other applications, for example authorship determination (eg did Shakespeare write Hamlet). This is how Science works. Progress in one area (eg identifying people from Smart Phones) will improve a host of other, related technologies, many of which are of humanitarian benefit.

Re:What is it with Scientists and Identifying Thin (1)

Kjella (173770) | 1 year,19 days | (#45102211)

Businesses want to track you because there's money in data mining and profiling. Governments want to track you for surveillance and control. You think you'd be one iota less tracked if nobody in academia did? No, you'd just not realize it but I guess ignorance is bliss...

Re:What is it with Scientists and Identifying Thin (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45102501)

"Because if I don't do it, somebody else will"

Re:What is it with Scientists and Identifying Thin (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45102563)

Because it's an easy publication and most people, scientists or not, are unethical.

Re:What is it with Scientists and Identifying Thin (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45102741)

Yeah, let's blame it on the scientists who publish it. Like we scapegoat the whitehats that report vulnerabilities in software. I cannot tell if you're kidding or not. Hopefully you can tell, now, that reporting these results means that people need to sanitize this information, and/or demand that manufacturers help sanitize/restrict access to this data.

If you didn't know it, the "bad guys" would still know it, and be using it without your knowledge.

About time to refine what apps get (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45101041)

It isn't sufficient anymore to block apps from getting some information (besides, some apps play miffed if they don't get this or that). What the OS should do is empower the user to tell "controlled lies".

For example: fuzz geo data by some controllable amount (or "I'm always in Trondheim, Norway"). Fuzz accelerometer, voice, and so on.

By default apply some sensible random fuzzing (just a tad above the instrument's accuracy, for example). Make the "lying strategies" configurable per-app.

Re: About time to refine what apps get (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45101989)

Adding random fuzz is probably not going to defeat this. The average of random fuzz is always zero or some other constant value, so averaging the signal is one way of removing the fuzz. And if the app is trying to fingerprint the fuzz that's already in the signal, adding random fuzz will just alter the fuzz profile - the same algorithm that could originally ID that phone's fuzz profile will probably still work.

IMEI and MAC addresses? (3, Interesting)

Rambo Tribble (1273454) | 1 year,19 days | (#45101071)

I was of the impression that anything that accesses the cell network already has a unique IMEI adddress and that devices that access networks have a unique MAC address. What does this provide that they don't? It would seem this information could be spoofed at least as easily as such hardware addresses.

Re:IMEI and MAC addresses? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45101357)

This is something that a web page can do. An app doesn't need permission to access the accelerometer either.

Is that not what the IMEI number is for? (2)

zaax (637433) | 1 year,19 days | (#45101097)

Every mobile phone, GSM modem or device with a built-in phone / modem has a unique 15 digit IMEI number.

Re:Is that not what the IMEI number is for? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45101557)

Every mobile phone, GSM modem or device with a built-in phone / modem has a unique 15 digit IMEI number.

The IMEI is not accessible for apps (or at least it shouldn't be) so a web server couldn't use the IMEI to identify a specific phone but with this an app could phone home with a unique identity.

GSM (1)

Lawrence_Bird (67278) | 1 year,19 days | (#45101179)

I recall reading something earlier in the year that researchers (maybe it was our friends at NS*) are able to uniquely identify cell phones based on some type of timing difference in gsm trasmissions. Bottom line, if you use a phone someone can figure out its you.

Does this scale? (3, Informative)

mbone (558574) | 1 year,19 days | (#45101211)

If you look at the graph in the article (which talks about flipping the phone, but seems to actually be measurements of flat vs standing vertical), the variations are constrained to be (in the Sz axis) from 0.994 to 1.004, or a variation of 0.008, and the Sz repeatability is worse than 0.00025. So, this would work if the number of phones was ~ 30, but would be "confusion limited" for a larger number. Likewise, in the Oz axis the (different ?!?) units run from -0.2 to 0.4, a variation of 0.6, and the uncertainty is > 0.02, so the number of phones that could be distinguished is ~ 30. Combine these two axes, and no more than ~ 30^2 or 900 phones could be distinguished. There are obviously more than 900 phones in the world.

Even if all 3 sensors are independent and equally sensitive, that only gets you the ability to track 900^3 or ~ 700 million devices, which is a lot, but still likely not enough, as the distribution of errors is not likely to be uniform, but gaussian or some other distribution, and that will lower the effective sensitivity, as would any correlation between the sensor errors.

Note also that quartz crystals (I believe that these are piezoelectric sensors) are notorious not only for being individually imperfect, but also for drifting with time and (especially) temperature, which might also substantially reduce repeatability.

So, I suspect this is not likely to work well in practice.

What this could do is make the rare phone (one with by chance a particularly bad sensor) easily identifiable...

Re:Does this scale? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45101635)

You have it right. There isn't a unique enough signal. I think most are silicon mems, though, not quartz.

Re:Does this scale? (1)

mbone (558574) | 1 year,19 days | (#45101947)

Ah, yes, you're probably right about the silicon mems.

I would also worry about how much variation is random, and how much is due to manufacturing peculiarities - i.e., are all phones with senors from factory X correlated? All phones made on the same day? Such correlations are likely to reduce sensitivity over all (as the actual random error would be smaller).

Note that this analysis applies to the "inverse problem" (identifying all phones in a given area). This ID could still help in the "forward problem" (the classic private detective one, where I want to find individual X in a crowded city). Even if the error rate was one in a million, in a city of (say) 5 million phones, it might be very useful to be able to say "X is right now probably near one of these 5 cell towers, and is probably not near any of the others." It would be like the police knowing a bank robber is driving a blue Chevy Volt with out-of-state plates. There could be several of those around, but it does narrow the search parameter space a lot.

Too Late (1)

MidnightBrewer (97195) | 1 year,19 days | (#45101261)

Pity their research was so slow. Steve Gibson of grc.com and the "Security Now!" podcast is in talks with the W3C about his new SQRL authentication protocol. Uniquely individual, completely anonymous.

This Is Why I Live In A Centrifuge (1)

Dialecticus (1433989) | 1 year,19 days | (#45101303)

The tricky bit is remembering to change the speed setting every morning...

the fix is trivial (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45101539)

The fix is trivial, just add a small random X Y and Z bit of fuzz to the measurements, less than the sensor's natural variations, but enough to fuzz the results.

Also the sensors have a bit of natural temperature dependence, around 0.5 milliG's per degree C, so the readings are not all that good an identifier.

Just ridiculous. (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45101651)

It's a simple equation

A) If you don't like tracking , just dont use it. Simple or
B) No amount of whining will do anything to change that. Vote for someone who will introduce amendments to the privacy laws.
Use the power of your vote. Ask ,making clear it guides your vote , the candidates about privacy laws and if they that have bills to put on the table.
As long as there are insufficient numbers of voters opposing the companies who fund the candidates , why would they do anything about it ?

   

How constant over time? (1)

sdhankin (213671) | 1 year,19 days | (#45101981)

The nice thing about a person's actual fingerprints is that they don't change over time. As one poster pointed out, oscillators do drift over time. I can't help but think that the components they're trying to measure also will change in the tested characteristics as they age. If a digital fingerprint doesn't stay constant over the life of the device, is it really of any value?

I did this decades ago (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45102037)

By comparing the frequencies of the various crystals in the PC. Processor vs. serial port, etc. An attempt at keeping over seas customers from ghosting one paid installation onto hard drives in a massive rollout.

Before that, when alternate track tables existed on hard drives, that was another form of identification. Then there were less useful ones like RAM size, video adapter type, list of boards in the system, etc.

That was not exact enough to give anything like certainty. The quick correlation of CPU to serial crystal for instance, only gave about 2-3 bits of identity.

Now if you have an image sensor, and you can see the dark values of the pixels, that would be a real fingerprint.

Accels and gyros, too noisy, and must be motionless to get anything useful. OK if sitting on a table, but not inside a car.

This is a already a field of research: ICmetrics (1)

metamarmoset (2728667) | 1 year,19 days | (#45102529)

This paper [sersc.org] explains how these principles can be used for key-generation.

Interesting how this provides potential for both security and privacy invasion.

Cutting edge research indicates (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45103313)

If you need to go and murder someone, leave your phone at home.

iirc, same as 6 years ago with computers (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,18 days | (#45105367)

iirc, same as a technique proposed about 6 years ago to ID computers ??

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