We all encounter them, but it is uncommon for most people to know what cookies are. In fact, we simply accept cookies on autopilot without even knowing what they mean. The modern internet relies on HTTP cookies. However, it poses privacy issues. HTTP cookies are essential for web browsing. They enable web developers to provide convenient and personalized website visits. Besides, cookies help websites remember you. But, the problem is whether you are a treasure trove of private information for cybercriminals. It can be overwhelming to guard your online privacy.
An understanding of cookies is necessary for keeping unwanted eyes at bay. Although most cookies are safe, some of them are used for tracking you without you even knowing. Things would get even worse if a criminal gains access to the cookies to spy on you. This post aims to provide you with all the information you need about cookies to ensure that you are safe online.
What Are Cookies?
As we dive deeper, you need to know what cookies are. They are text files that contain small pieces of data such as a username and password for identifying your computer. Specific cookies called HTTP cookies identify specific users and help deliver a better browsing experience. Data stored in cookies is created by the server that you rely on for your internet connection. The data is given a unique ID for your computer. Once the cookie is exchanged, the server will simply identify your ID and know which information to share with you.
Types of Cookies
Although cookies function the same, they are applied for different uses. There are two different types of cookies which include magic cookies and HTTP cookies. Magic cookies refers to packets of information are received and sent without changes. It is an old computing term that is commonly used for logging into the computer database system. On the other hand, HTTP cookies are repurposed magic cookies that are made for internet browsing. HTTP cookies were developed by Lou Montulli in 1994 and continue to be used to this day. Thus, it is used by malicious people to spy on your online activity.
What Are HTTP Cookies?
Since HTTP cookies are used today, it is important to better understand them. HTTP cookies are designed for internet browsers to personalize, track, and save information about each user session. Whenever you visit a new website, cookies are generated to identify and track you. A short stream of identifying information is sent to the web browser and the web server stores this data. These cookies are read as name-value pairs. Thus, it is possible to tell where the cookies were sent and find out more about the data.
Cookies are sent when the servers wants the web browser to store it. If you want to know where cookies are stored, the answer to the question is rather straightforward, they are stored locally by the web browser. Whenever you return to the website, the web browser would simply return the data to the web server to enable it to recall data from the previous session. Therefore, cookies are somewhat like getting a ticket for your coat check as mentioned below.
- You would hand the coat over to the cloak desk. In such a case, a pocket of data would be linked to you whenever you connect with the website server. The data could involve the pages you visit, your shopping cart, or your personal account.
- You will receive a ticket for identification purposes. The cookie for the website you visit will be stored in the web browser. This unique ID only has information about you.
- When you leave and return, you would still have the ticket as your browser would give your cookie to the website which it would to assemble your activity by recalling your previous sessions.
Why Are Cookies Used?
HTTP cookies are used for streamlining your internet experience online. If there were no cookies, you would need to login every time and provide all your information as the website would have to rebuild your shopping cart. This is why cookies are essential for the ultimate internet experience. The following will help you decide when to keep cookies and when to discard them.
- Session Management: Cookies enable websites to recognize users and recall their login information along with preferences.
- Personalization: Personalized advertising is the main reason why cookies are used. You might view specific parts of the website and the cookies would use this data for building targeted ads to ensure that you see items that you are interested in.
- Tracking: Cookies are widely used by shopping websites to track items that users had viewed previous and rely on cookies to suggest other items that you might like.
Types of HTTP Cookies
There are also a few variations when it comes to HTTP cookies. Cookies come in two types, persistent and session. Session cookies are used for navigating websites and are stored in the random access memory, whereas, persistent cookies remain on your computer. It is important to note that session cookies get deleted the moment the session ends. They are useful for the use of plugins as these help you ensure user privacy. There are two main uses of persistent cookies which include authentication and tracking.
Why Cookies Are Dangerous?
Cookies are not exactly harmful as the data stored in them does not change. Although they do not infect your computer with viruses, cybercriminals are notorious for their ability to hijack cookies to access your browsing sessions. Thus, the possibility of cybercriminals being able to use them to track your browsing history is a possibility. To stay on the safe side, you need to understand that not every cookie is the same as some pose a greater threat. Generally, first-party cookies are safe as they are created by the website that you are using, whereas, third-party cookies can be rather troubling as they are generated by websites which are different and follow you as you surf and browse the internet. Thus, it is best that you restrict third-party cookies altogether.