What are Cookies? And are they dangerous?

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We come across them on just about every website we visit, and usually habitually click ‘accept all’ so we can carry on viewing the website, but are we making our privacy vulnerable?

Cookies are essential to the modern internet, they 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. They let websites remember you, your logins, your shopping basket and much more. It’s a bit like leaving footprints in the sand, they track your path. As you realise, this is great to help our shopping experience, but it is also a treasure trove of private data that can be hacked.

‘Good’ cookies are essential to our hassle-free shopping/browsing online. They break down into 3 main types:

  1. Session management.For example, cookies let websites recognize users and recall their individual login information and preferences, such as sports news versus politics.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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:

 First Party Cookies.

These are created directly by the website you are using, on the whole, they are safe, as long as you are browsing a reputable website.

Third Party Cookies.

These are ones to watch out for as they can be dangerous. They are usually linked to Ads on the page you are browsing. Visiting a site with 10 ads would generate 10 cookies even if you don’t click on them. This would then generate information of your browsing history for advertisers or analytics companies to track and then who knows where else they would ‘sell’ that info on to.

Allowing or Removing Cookies

As mentioned above, Cookies can help you have an easier browsing experience, as it can remember log on details, shopping baskets etc. therefore streamlining your surfing online.

But if you are worried about your browsing history being infiltrated, it is easy to remove cookies:

  • 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.

But remember this will mean that each time to return to habitual sites you will need to re-enter your log-in details, so best to evaluate the ease of use expected from a website.

If you invest in a good internet security package, for example the Norton 360 Range or the McAfee Security range, they can help to remove an infestation of Tracking Cookies and other malicious types.

Using VPN (VPN, Virtual Private Network, comes with the Norton 360 range) is another good way to handle cookies in a safer way as they won’t show your exact location, you are anonymous due to the fact the VPN channels you to a remote server.

To summarise, only allow Cookies on sites you trust and are familiar with and get in a good habit of ‘cleaning up’ your cookies often.



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