Latest posts by Alvin Bryan (see all)
- Millionaire Tyupkin Malware ATM Hackers May Come to US, India After Hitting Europe - October 23, 2014
- BitLicense Will Allow Bitcoin Spying in New York - October 22, 2014
- Australians are Fighting Data Retention Laws - October 22, 2014
Cookies are small text files that websites send to your browser. When you visit a website, these cookies store information about your connection to their server. This information includes authentication information, IP address, the domain you used to connect, details about your activity on the website, and preferences that you saved. They are what allow some functions on a website like automatic sign-ins. The specific type of information that a cookie provides depends on what the website wants.
Session cookies store information about whether or not you’ve already visited a page and saving your preferences on the page. This is what informs another page on a website that you are logged in, for instance. When you close your browser, the information is deleted. Persistent cookies are the ones stored on your computer. This is how your email address appears when you open your email account or type in the first letter of your email on Facebook. They open your personal page when you visit an online merchant, and similar functions.
Technically, cookies are only sent back and forth between a computer and the website it is communicating with. What people should be concerned about regarding cookies is what websites use them for. Also, if anyone else gained access to the cookies, how they can be used to compromise privacy.
Manipulating Cookie Data
Some websites gather and store information about users to use for targeted advertising. Others sell this information to advertising companies. Once the information has been shared in this way, neither you nor the website has any control over it. You may not even be aware that your browsing information has been shared or sold in the first place.
Advertisements that you see on the Internet come from a server that many different websites may be connected to. When you open one, a third-party cookie from the advertiser is sent with your information. When you browse other websites that are associated with that advertising company, the cookies are there to identify you as someone who has visited those websites and seen the ads, and also how often you visited, and what pages you visited. If you count all the websites you visit and all the advertising companies linked to them, you can imagine how much data about your activities there is and the patterns they can create out of it. This is very valuable to marketers for them to know what people are attracted to and where they go, which in turn is bought at high prices by online businesses.
If a hacker gets into your computer through a virus, he or she can get your personal information from cookies. If the cookies contain information about the online stores you visit often or the website where you do online banking, the hacker can see any saved information and preference you have there. This might be enough for them to pose as you and transact on your accounts. If not, they can use it to start a phishing scam to get you to reveal the extra information they need to steal and use your identity. Sometimes, with keylogger and tracking software, they can get your usernames and passwords. Some think that this is more work than it is worth doing, but hackers often use automated tools for all the hard labor. They are simply fed a list of desired data that they program their tools to search for and send to them.
Disable and Delete Cookies for Privacy and Security
For privacy and security reasons, it is best to disable some cookies and delete others after your browsing session. Disabling all cookies can stop some websites from functioning properly. This can be a big hassle for the user, and is most often not worth going through. You can adjust your browser privacy settings to block certain types of cookies instead. For example, choosing to only allow cookies for the web site you are visiting can block other websites from collecting personal information about you without your knowledge. This is done by blocking all third-party cookies. You should always do this when you are using a public computer. In most browsers, you can also adjust the length of time that persistent cookies are stored so your personal information cannot be kept after your session expires.
Complete Your Internet Protection
After you have set up your browsers to delete and block unwanted cookies, you are halfway there. Some cookies are still needed for some of the websites you visit to function. These cookies may not be dangerous to you by themselves. But they can still be manipulated to try and uncover some personal data about you. To secure yourself from potential dangers, you need to disconnect your identity from these cookies and the websites you use. The way to do this is to hide your IP address, but not with just any proxy. You need to be sure that you cannot be traced through the alternate IP that you are given. Only a good VPN service can give you that security. The VPN also gives you the additional protection of a malware shield and data and traffic encryption so that there is no way it can be intercepted.