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Website Cookies: How to Stay Safe?

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.

There are different types of cookies – Magic Cookies and HTTP Cookies.

“Magic cookies” are an old computing term that refers to packets of information that are sent and received without changes. Commonly, this would be used for a login to computer database systems, such as a business internal network. This concept predates the modern “cookie” we use today.

HTTP cookies are a repurposed version of the “magic cookie” built for internet browsing. Web browser programmer Lou Montulli used the “magic cookie” as inspiration in 1994. He recreated this concept for browsers when he helped an online shopping store fix their overloaded servers.The HTTP cookie is what we currently use to manage our online experiences. It is also what some malicious people can use to spy on your online activity and steal your personal info.To explain, you’ll want to understand exactly what are internet cookies and why do they matter?

What Are Cookies 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 cookies 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.

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 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 cyberattacks 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.

How do I delete and control cookies?

At some point, you may want to remove these cookies from your browser. Your favorite sites will forget who you are, and you will have to log in where you normally were automatically accepted.

Windows

Edge

Unfortunately, Edge (like Internet Explorer) does not have a built-in cookie management tool for specific sites or domains. It does have a delete all or nothing option, which you can find under Settings. Under Clear Browsing Data click Choose > Cookies and saved website data. The control is also not very granular. You can find it under Settings > Advanced settings > View advanced settings. You will find three options: block, don’t block, or block only third-party cookies.

Chrome

Go to Menu > Settings > Show advanced settings. Under Privacy, click Content settings > Cookies. Click “All cookies and site data” to get an overview. Here you do have a choice on what to delete. You can delete individual cookies separately or all of them in one sweep.

Firefox

Click on the Firefox button > Options > Privacy > Show Cookies. Here you will see options to Delete all cookies or search for specific ones you want to delete. For a more detailed description, take a look at Firefox’s article: Delete cookies to remove the information websites have stored on your computer.

Opera

Click the Opera button > Settings > Delete Private Data > Detailed options > Manage cookies. Here you will see an overview of the stored cookies and an option to delete them separately. For more information, see Opera’s help article: Manage Cookies.In the links I have provided for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera, you will also find information on how to control which ones get stored on your computer. Internet Explorer has the controls on the Privacy tab under Tools > Internet options.

Safari

Safari offers the option to clear all your cookies along with your browsing history. To use this option choose History > Clear History. Click the pop-up menu, and then choose how far back you want your browsing history cleared. Or you can choose to delete only cookies and website data by clicking Preferences > Privacy > Manage Website Data. Select one or more websites, then click Remove or Remove All.

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.