Got Cookies?

Cookies and computers may sound like a confusing combination. You may be wondering what does a cookie have to do with my computer?  A cookie in computer terms is simply another piece of information stored as text strings on your computer. The main purpose of a cookie is to identify users and save site login information for you.

Whenever you are using a website using cookies, you may be asked to fill out a form entering personal information. This information is packaged into a cookie and sent to your web browser, which in turn stores the information for later use. Web servers have no memory, so the site you are visiting transfers a cookie file of the browser on your computer’s hard disk so that the site can remember you at a later date. For example, when you make a purchase on Amazon, you enter your personal details and are assigned an ID. Amazon stores this ID with your information on its database and sends the ID to your browser as a cookie. The next time you go to Amazon to do some shopping, the ID is sent back to Amazon’s server, recognizing you as a customer, and personally welcomes you back.

There are a couple of types of cookies: session and persistent. Session, also referred to as transient, are cookies that are erased when you close the web browser. The session cookie is stored in a temporary memory and is not retained after the browser is closed. These types of cookies do not collect information from your computer. Persistent, or permanent cookies, are cookies that are stored on your hard drive until it expires or until you delete the cookie. Persistent cookies are used to collect identifying information about the user, such as preferences for specific websites.

Cookies are normally safe and harmless and do not interfere with the security of your computer, however, there is a growing trend of malicious cookies. These types of cookies can be used to store and track your activity online and are called malicious, or tracking cookies. These are bad cookies to watch for as they track your surfing habits and over time can build a profile of your interests. Once a profile is completed, it can be sold to an advertising company who then uses the profile information to target you with spam and targeted adverts. Today, many of the antivirus programs will flag suspicious spyware or adware cookies when scanning your system for viruses.

Most cookies, despite some misconceptions, are legitimate files and will not invade your privacy. Once you get in the habit of reviewing the cookies associated with your browser and manage them on your own by way of deleting malicious cookies or trying different browser privacy settings, you can still keep the good cookies that make surfing a breeze, yet keep the bad cookies that may be tracking your surfing habits off your system. A great resource is: How to Clear Your Browser’s Cookies. This link will give you step by step instructions to clear your browser history of unwanted cookies.