To Cookie or not to Cookie...


Many things have been said about computer cookies, privacy, and security. The truth is that they do pose a privacy issue by allowing website to collect information about you without your consent, use that information for purposes such as targeted marketing and to create a profile of you based on your web browsing history.

Computer Cookies have been around for years and they will not go away. It’s up to the user to decide where to draw the line in terms of privacy versus system operations and adjust the browsing security settings accordingly. With that in mind users need to understand that they cannot have total privacy and optimized performance, they simply don’t coexist together in the real world, you have to compromise and give in to the one or the other at one point.

With that in mind let’s go over the most questions people have about computer cookies:

  • What are Computer cookies: in layman term a computer cookie is a file that stores web browsing information, the file is created when you access a website and is stored in your computer. The information the cookie stores varies depending on what the website wants to keep track of, it goes from the visited pages, time and date, how long, language, geographical location, etc. All collected information is used by the website during (and future) sessions to provide a more personalized experience to the user.

Notice that when you have fresh browser windows or after you have deleted the cookies there are only a few saved cookies, the list builds up as you increase your browsing activity. In reality cookies are just a few kb in size but they take space over time.

  • Are cookies evil: not necessarily but it all depends what your definition of evil is. As stated earlier, many website have legit use for it to provide a secure and personalized service to users. The issue arises when those cookies are exploited by the company whose website you are accessing and third party companies. Though so far cookies do not spread viruses or malware they are fertile ground adware and may pose an invasion of privacy if the collected information is misused.

  • Can I disable cookies: yes you can, however you may encounter issues when accessing website that require cookies to offer the end user a desired session, there are even website that won’t allow you to connect if you don’t allow cookies.

Here you have an example of what happens when cookies are disabled and you try to access amazon, you will get the same result from many more websites.

  • Will my computer work faster if I delete the cookies: Unless cookies are taking up a lot of space on your computer deleting cookies will not have any real impact on its general performance, However you will see an improve in your web browsing activity.

  • Can I see what information the cookies collect? Not really, they are not files in a readable format for you to edit, they simply hold information usable to the websites you are accessing.

  • Is there a way to completely erase your web browsing history? You can use your browser setting to delete the browsing history and all stored cookies, this by no means represents total anonymity. You can also use web browser options such as: InPrivate Browsing, Igcognito, Turnon Tracking Protection if you worry and cookies stored on your pc.

That being said let’s go over the most common type of cookies:

  • Authentication Cookies: this type of cookies contains information about user authentication to the site such as user name, last login, etc. Have you ever revisited a site and it welcomes you with a personalized message? That’s the authentication cookie in action that once your web browsers opens the website it pulls the authentication information and presents to the site, it’s pretty much like an announcement of who you are when visiting the site.

  • Session Cookies: Conceptually speaking session cookies store information in memory (RAM) about your current web browsing session and once your web browser is closed the session cookies are erased. However it’s not necessarily true in the real world, let’s say you are in an ecommerce website such as amazon or tigerdirect, as you navigate the pages the session cookies keep track on what you have visited and the items you added to the cart, let’s say that you go back to your searches and add more items to your cart, the way you are able to keep your cart updated with the items is by the session cookie maintaining that information even if you wonder away from the site and come back at a later time (before the session expires). What’s happening right now is that some website have developed the session cookies to store information about your last session so that when you revisit that site you can see your “cart” and other items you visited earlier.

  • Persistent Cookies: These are cookies that last longer (is up to the developer) and retrieve information about your last session and present it to the website when revisiting it. They may last months or year, as time goes by they usually end up taking up space on computer.

  • Secure Cookies: it’s simply a cookie which can be transmitted securely (over ssl).

  • Third Party Cookies: are cookies that don’t belong to the domain you are accessing but rather belong to companies that have some type of business association with such site with the purpose of obtaining information about your preferences and browsing experience. Let’s say you access example.com, such website may allow other companies to install their cookies on their website to track information about you.

For many people cookies are a privacy concern, for a smaller number cookies represent a security issue. There are different ways to achieve a higher level of privay\security during web browsing, things such as: Inprivate Browsing, Incognito, Turning on Tracking protection, set your browser to delete cookies after the sesion ends, and even using Tor browser for your online activity. The truth is that total anonymity takes more than that and if it's something you are looking for your life style will change dramatically to avoid leaving traces.

About us: PreciseTek is a Managed IT service company providing technical support services to small and mid-sized businesses in mid-town Manhattan and surrounding area. We align technical solutions with business' goals to help them increse productivity and automate processes, our area of expetise is in desktop support, network administration, information security, and project management services. Contact us for more details about our services and solutions.

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