How Unique and Traceable Are Usernames?

Daniele Perito 1 Claude Castelluccia 1 Mohamed Ali Kaafar 1 Pere Manils 1
1 PLANETE - Protocols and applications for the Internet
Inria Grenoble - Rhône-Alpes, CRISAM - Inria Sophia Antipolis - Méditerranée
Abstract : Suppose you find the same username on different online services, what is the probability that these usernames refer to the same physical person? This work addresses what appears to be a fairly simple question, which has many implications for anonymity and privacy on the Internet. One possible way of estimating this probability would be to look at the public information associated to the two accounts and try to match them. However, for most services, these information are chosen by the users themselves and are often very heterogeneous, possibly false and difficult to collect. Furthermore, several websites do not disclose any additional public information about users apart from their usernames (e.g., discus- sion forums or Blog comments), nonetheless, they might contain sensitive information about users. This paper explores the possibility of linking users profiles only by looking at their usernames. The intuition is that the probability that two usernames refer to the same physical person strongly depends on the "entropy" of the username string itself. Our experiments, based on crawls of real web services, show that a significant portion of the users' profiles can be linked using their usernames. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time that usernames are considered as a source of information when profiling users on the Internet.
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Conference papers
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https://hal.inria.fr/hal-00747495
Contributor : Claude Castelluccia <>
Submitted on : Wednesday, October 31, 2012 - 2:28:13 PM
Last modification on : Wednesday, April 11, 2018 - 1:54:43 AM

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Daniele Perito, Claude Castelluccia, Mohamed Ali Kaafar, Pere Manils. How Unique and Traceable Are Usernames?. Privacy Enhancing Technologies - 11th International Symposium, PETS 2011, Jul 2011, Waterloo, Canada. pp.1-17, ⟨10.1007/978-3-642-22263-4_1⟩. ⟨hal-00747495⟩

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