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Master Thesis: Towards Advanced Real-time Web Tracking Detection in Mobile Applications


Towards Advanced Real-time Web Tracking Detection in Mobile Applications


Although the problems surrounding the ubiquity of web tracking and its risk to the privacy of online users have attracted public attention in recent years, efforts to counter the averse affects and protect the privacy and personal data of users, either through counter-tracking solutions or legislation, have done little to stem the tide. The problem is especially pronounced in the mobile world, where the generally opaque nature of mobile platforms prevents effective research to ascertain the nature and extent of third-party tracking and protect user privacy. This thesis presents Heimdall, an Android web traffic measurement tool designed to allow users and researchers to shed light on the inner workings of mobile applications and identify connections to third-party trackers that have the potential to abuse users’ personal data present on their mobile devices. It relies entirely on Android APIs that are available in user-space to collect and process transport-layer network traffic of other mobile applications securely and without the need for device modifications or external infrastructure. Heimdall uses a bipartite network graph to represent connections made by monitored applications to external hosts, enabling the use of graph analysis methodologies to identify thirdparty tracking services. The concept underlying Heimdall is evaluated based on a study of recorded network traffic of the 100 most popular Android applications. The results closely correlate to those of related studies, substantiating the effectiveness of Heimdall as a network traffic data collection tool and providing a positive outlook for the applicability of graph analysis as a supporting tool for machine learning in the automated detection of third-party web tracking in mobile application.

Supervisor: Philip Raschke

Type:  Master Thesis

Duration: 4 months

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TU Berlin - Service-centric Networking - TEL 19
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