What is a Web Cookie? What Are Cookies Used For?

What is a Web Cookie? What Are Cookies Used For?

Web Cookie – Web cookies are essential to the modern Internet but a vulnerability to your privacy. As a necessary part of web browsing, HTTP cookies help web developers give you more personal, convenient website visits. Cookies let websites remember you, your website logins, shopping carts and more. But they can also be a treasure trove of private info for criminals to spy on.

Guarding your privacy online can be overwhelming. Fortunately, even a basic understanding of cookies can help you keep unwanted eyes off your internet activity.

While most cookies are perfectly safe, some can be used to track you without your consent. Worse, legitimate cookies can sometimes be spied upon if a criminal gets access.

What is a Web Cookie?

Cookies are text files with small pieces of data — like a username and password — that are used to identify your computer as you use a computer network. Specific cookies known as HTTP cookies are used to identify specific users and improve your web browsing experience.

Data stored in a cookie is created by the server upon your connection. This data is labeled with an ID unique to you and your computer.

When the cookie is exchanged between your computer and the network server, the server reads the ID and knows what information to specifically serve to you.

What is a Web Cookie Used For?

Websites use HTTP cookies to streamline your web experiences. Without cookies, you’d have to login again after you leave a site or rebuild your shopping cart if you accidentally close the page. Making cookies an important a part of the internet experience.

Based on this, you’ll want to understand why they’re worth keeping — and when they’re not.

Here’s how cookie are intended to be used:

Session management. For example, cookies let websites recognize users and recall their individual login information and preferences, such as sports news versus politics.

Personalization. Customized advertising is the main way cookies are used to personalize your sessions. You may view certain items or parts of a site, and cookies use this data to help build targeted ads that you might enjoy.

Tracking. Shopping sites use cookies to track items users previously viewed, allowing the sites to suggest other goods they might like and keep items in shopping carts while they continue shopping.

While this is mostly for your benefit, web developers get a lot out of this set-up as well.

Cookies are stored on your device locally to free up storage space on a website’s servers. In turn, websites can personalize while saving money on server maintenance and storage costs.

Why Web Cookies Can Be Dangerous

Since the data in cookies doesn’t change, cookies themselves aren’t harmful.

They can’t infect computers with viruses or other malware. However, some cyber-attacks can hijack cookies and enable access to your browsing sessions.

The danger lies in their ability to track individuals’ browsing histories. To explain, let’s discuss what cookies to watch out for.

First-Party vs. Third-Party Cookies

Some cookies may pack more of a threat than others depending on where they come from.

First-party cookies are directly created by the website you are using. These are generally safer, as long as you are browsing reputable websites or ones that have not been compromised.

Third-party cookies are more troubling. They are generated by websites that are different from the web pages users are currently surfing, usually because they’re linked to ads on that page.

Visiting a site with 10 ads may generate 10 cookies, even if users never click on those ads.

Third-party cookies let advertisers or analytics companies track an individual’s browsing history across the web on any sites that contain their ads.

Consequently, the advertiser could determine that a user first searched for running apparel at a specific outdoor store before checking a particular sporting goods site and then a certain online sportswear boutique.

Zombie cookies are from a third-party and permanently installed on users’ computers, even when they opt not to install cookies. They also reappear after they’ve been deleted. When zombie cookies first appeared, they were created from data stored in the Adobe Flash storage bin. They are sometimes called “flash cookies” and are extremely difficult to remove.

Like other third-party cookies, zombie cookies can be used by web analytics companies to track unique individuals’ browsing histories. Websites may also use zombies to ban specific users.

Allowing or Removing Cookies

Cookies can be an optional part of your internet experience. If you so choose, you can limit what cookies end up on your computer or mobile device.

If you allow cookies, it will streamline your surfing. For some users, no cookies security risk is more important than a convenient internet experience.

Here’s how to allow cookies:

    Find the cookie section — typically under Settings > Privacy.

    Click the boxes to allow cookies. Sometimes the option says, “Allow local data.”

    If you don’t want cookies, you can simply uncheck these boxes.

Removing cookies can help you mitigate your risks of privacy breaches. It can also reset your browser tracking and personalization. To help, Kaspersky offers step-by-step instructions for removing cookies from the most popular web browsers.

Removing normal cookies is easy, but it could make certain web sites harder to navigate. Without cookies internet, users may have to re-enter their data for each visit. Different browsers store cookies in different places, but usually, you can:

    Find the Settings, Privacy section — sometimes listed under Tools, Internet Options, or Advanced.

    Follow the prompts on the available options to manage or remove cookies.

To remove tracking cookie infestations and more malicious types, you’ll want to enlist the help of some internet security software.

Before removing cookies, evaluate the ease of use expected from a website that uses cookies. In most cases, cookies improve the web experience, but they should be handled carefully.

In the future, you can anonymize your web use by using a virtual private network (VPN). These services tunnel your web connection to a remote server that poses as you. Cookies will be labeled for that remote server in another country, instead of your local computer.

Regardless of how you handle cookies, it’s best to remain on guard and clean up your cookies often.

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