"History sniffing" is an attack in which a malicious website can figure out what other websites you have visited by taking advantage of the way browsers draw visited and unvisited hyperlinks differently. This made headlines in 2010 thanks to a widely read academic paper and browser vendors figuring out how to block the attack. The oldest description of the attack I have been able to find was in 2002, but the oldest use of the phrase "history sniffing" I have been able to find was in 2008.

Can anyone antedate the phrase, or the disclosure of the attack? (I tried Google's timeline search, which you would think would be good for this sort of thing, but it fails to limit its results to uses of the exact phrase "history sniffing" even when I use the quote syntax, so it's useless.)

closed as off-topic by tchrist, FumbleFingers, p.s.w.g, Rory Alsop, Kristina Lopez Dec 23 '13 at 20:31

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    I don't know that it exactly makes sense to identify this as a coherent coinage; it's a formation from a general concept of "sniffing" encompassing pretty much any form of data surveillance, as with packet sniffing (the most common appearance), video sniffing, wi-fi sniffing, etc etc. It's very unlikely the first person to use the term "history sniffing" would have thought of themselves as performing a coinage rather than simply pairing a term for surveillance with the thing being surveilled. – chaos Feb 9 '11 at 19:35
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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about the first use of an expression that would doubtless have occurred to many different people once the real-world referent became possible/widely known. – FumbleFingers Dec 22 '13 at 18:36

As an information security professional, I can say that the term "history sniffing" has not really entered InfoSec vernacular. "Browser history sniffing" or "CSS probing" may be more technically correct, but no single term has gained the same kind of traction as other web browser attacks like XSS (Cross site scripting) and CSRF (Cross site request forgery).

The technique you are talking about became well-known after an August 2006 blog post titled I know where you've been by Jeremiah Grossman, a renowned web security researcher. References prior to this post, such as the Bugtraq page you noted, did not gain widespread attention (though they probably should have).


The oldest description of the attack I have been able to find was in 2002, but the oldest use of the phrase "history sniffing" I have been able to find was in 2008.

That 2008 blogpost actually uses "Sniff browser history" rather than your exact phrase "history sniffing", which itself is used in a 2010 comment further down the page.

I found an antecedent in this August 2006 blogpost title, which is in response to the Grossman blogpost (see Justin's answer) that popularised the technique:

Browser history sniffing through CSS & Javascript

And here's another, from May 2006 conference proceedings:

We describe the detrimental effects of browser cache/history sniffing in the context of phishing attacks

Both these are part of the longer "browser history sniffing".

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