What is managed attribution?
The term “attribution” refers to all the identifiable details that websites collect each time a user visits them. These details include items such as internet address and connection (registered owner, subscriber information), browser and device type (OS, software/plugins installed, time zone, audio/video devices, cookies, HTML5 local storage, canvas fingerprinting, audio rendering), unique online behaviors (social media connections, shopping interests, websites visited, account activity) and more. Separately, these components may be insignificant, but all together they can help websites — and their webmasters — track and identify visitors, determine their affiliations and deduce what their interest in the site might be.
Managed attribution is the ability to control how the details of your device, browser and browsing behavior are projected to websites you visit. It allows for the customization of specific aspects of your online identity — such as your browser fingerprint (time zone, language, keyboard, OS, device type, web browser) or network address (physical location, ISP, subscriber information). Managed attribution also gives users the ability to initiate isolated sessions without persistent tracking mechanisms.
Why is managed attribution important for online investigators?
Managed attribution is particularly useful for professional online investigators who need to conceal their identity and intent while researching investigative targets, blending in with the crowd of average site visitors. If a target sees strange details in their web logs — such as out-of-region visitors accessing the site at uncommon hours and translating pages — they may realize they are under investigation and decide to shutter the site or present the investigator with disinformation. They could also uncover the investigator’s true identity and retaliate against them or their organization.
How is managed attribution different from non-attribution and misattribution?
Managed attribution gives you greater control over what information is left behind as a traceable digital fingerprint. It is not the same as mis- or non-attribution:
- Non-attribution is when you try to stay anonymous while browsing the web. But whether you use a VPN, dedicated network or a “burner” device, none of those solutions provide a fully cloaked environment. You are still at risk because browsers, websites and search engines collect data on many variables that can identify you.
- Misattribution refers to intentionally misleading your investigation targets about your identity and intent. However, even with private browsing or “burner” machines, identifying data can still reside on the device that could be used by trackers and jeopardize your mission. Misattribution also does not alleviate the risk of malware during the investigation.
- Managed attribution helps you blend in by customizing how you appear to sites and people you interact with online. You can substantially reduce risk using a location-specific and context- specific digital disguise, with investigative work isolated from your business and personal browsing, and your browser isolated from your device and network.
How managed attribution minimizes risk for online investigators
The right managed attribution solution gives you the power to improve the results and impact of your investigations with capabilities that enforce tradecraft best practices, including:
- Isolate online research: Ensure your personal and everyday business browsing is separate from your investigative work. It’s key to avoid specific actions and behavior patterns that can be used to identify you, and erode any intentional misattribution you’ve put in place. A managed attribution service, such as Silo for Research, enables you to use the same computer every day, but isolate your investigations in a securely anonymized, cloud-based environment. A web isolation platform ensures web code never reaches the endpoint, keeping your device and network safe from malware. Investigation evidence can be safely collected, stored, translated and shared through the solution, with a full audit trail.
- Customize your online appearance: Like a physical undercover agent, your online identity needs to blend in as appropriate to your investigation. Your solution should enable you to change your location, time zone and language settings to align with the region of your targets. You’ll also want to avoid standing out by using that region’s most common search engines and social media networks, and conducting searches using terms in the local language.
- Use disposable browser sessions: To minimize attribution risk, start fresh each time you browse. At the end of each session, have a system that clears all cookies and tracking data, erasing any evidence of your device or your online activity.
- Automate for efficiency and productivity: Your managed attribution solution should make it safe and easy to work efficiently, such as scheduling jobs, automatically downloading sites for later research, capturing content in isolation, as well as built-in tools for translation and audit trails you may need.
Managed attribution: how do get started
Increasing the success rate of investigations relies on secure, anonymous access to credible information. Minimizing risk is key — and that requires a solution purpose-built to protect analysts, organizations and the integrity of data collected as evidence. A managed attribution service like Silo for Research conceals identities during online research, providing the anonymity and access investigators need. From financial fraud specialists to corporate security or trust and safety teams, to law enforcement, analysts can more safely, easily and efficiently conduct anonymous research to maximize productivity and improve outcomes.
For more information on using managed attribution, see: