What is an HTTP cookie?

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Cookies, which are more properly called HTTP cookies, are small bits of data that are stored as text files on a browser. Websites make use of these small bits of data in order to keep track of users as well as enable user-specific features.

Cookies enable core website functionality, such as e-commerce shopping carts. In addition, they are  also used for other purposes, such as tracking user activity. Cookies are a necessary part of the way the web works however they are a source of privacy concerns and security risks.

When you enter a website which makes use of cookies, you may be requested to fill out a form in which you need to provide personal information such as your:

  • Name,
  • Email address, and
  • Interests

This data is then packaged into a cookie and sent to the Web browser that you’re using, for example Google, Bing or Yahoo. This then stores the data for later use. The following time you go to the same website, your browser will direct the cookie to the web server. The communication is sent back, to the server, each time that the browser asks for a page from the server.

A web server has no memory. This means that the hosted website which you are visiting transfers a cookie file of the browser on your computer’s hard disk. This is so that the website can remember who you are as well as your preferences. This message exchange permits the Web server to use this data to present you with customised web pages.

What do HTTP cookies do?

The point of the HTTP cookie is to help the website keep a record of your visits as well as the activity and this isn’t always a bad thing. For instance, many online retailers and digital marketers make use cookies in order to keep a handle on the items in a user’s shopping cart as these customers explore the website.  Without the use of cookies, your shopping cart would reset to zero at every point you clicked a new link on the website.

A website might also make use of cookies in order to keep a record of your latest visit or to record your login information.  A lot of people find this beneficial as they can store passwords on commonly used sites. Alternatively, they can know what they have visited or downloaded in the past.

Various types of cookies keep on track with different activities.  Session cookies are made use of only when a person is actively navigating a website. Once you leave the website, the session cookie disappears.  Tracking cookies may be utilised in order to create long-term records of multiple visits to the same site. Authentication cookies track if a user is logged in and, if they are, under what name.

What are Malicious HTTP Cookies?

HTTP cookies usually do not compromise security. However, there is a rising trend of malicious cookies appeared on the Internet. These kinds of cookies can be utilised in order to store as well as track your online activity.

Cookies which watch your activity online are called malicious or tracking cookies and these are the bad cookies to watch for. This is because they track you and your Internet surfing habits, over time, in order to build a profile of your interests. Once this profile contains enough data there is a decent chance that your info can be sold to an advertising business who then uses this profile information to target you with interest-specific adverts. Many antivirus programs today will flag suspicious spyware or adware cookies when it scans your system for viruses.

As cookies are stored on your computer, it is possible for you to delete them. Simply navigate to the settings of your Internet browser and go to the history section. Here, there’s usually a fairly obvious tool to delete cookies. When you select these, this  should wipe all of the cookies from your computer and free up file space.

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