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Understanding Cookies


 A Cookie, for purposes of browsing the internet, is little more than a stored web address, written to both the local hard drive and the Internet browser (address   bar), which enables the  browser to quickly ret
 
rieve common user information for faster web browsing.  Cookies can also be used to create trend analysis about a user’s shopping habits, hobbies, interests (without their knowledge). This trend analysis is used to target pop up ads to appear on websites specific to a user’s taste when browsing the Internet. They also negatively affect the computer causing it to run slower, allow for breaches in user privacy, and can allow malicious code  to run on the user’s computer. The good news is that cookies can easily be deleted / blocked from the computer by configuring the setting to High or deleting the browsing history.
 

Cookies can be viewed (as a small image/text file) by going to the c:\windows\cookies directory on the computer. They can store the time the website was visited, view the website that placed the file on the machine, and opened (to view the contents) by clicking on the file.  Websites can only retrieve information that was placed in your C:\ drive or Internet browser and will not retrieve cookies that are not specific to the file.  Some applications/websites require cookies to be set at a low setting to view the document/webpage; always confirm it is safe to accept or lower the setting.  Proceed with caution, and remember when you are done to go back and reset the cookie setting back to the default value to prevent malicious websites from saving files on the computer.
Browsers use cookies to quickly retrieve information on commonly visited websites; observe shopping habits, hobbies, and interests by recording how many people visit a particular site; the number of times the site was visited; if the user was a repeat visitor; and if a user customized the website to their preference. Most sites store user preferences in the websites’ database as a cookie for faster retrieval the next time they visit.  E-commerce websites store additional information by using shopping carts and quick checkout options. The cookie allows the site to keep track of your order in the shopping cart by saving the information in their database. When checking out, the site retrieves your order from the database and processes the transaction after the payment/shipping information is completed. If this cookie feature was not available; shopping cart and quick checkout could not exist.  Users must realize that information they provide to a website will be stored in a cookie, and should the computer become infected, the information in the cookie can be compromised.
Cookies are undesirable because they can lead to an invasion of privacy, and also hinder the speed of your local hard drive.  Privacy concerns exist because cookies can be used to conduct a trend analysis of the websites you visit without your knowledge. This trend analysis can lead to a company selling a user’s personal information to third party companies/websites which in turn use that to target spam. A cookie can track movements across multiple websites by creating specifically crafted files which monitors a user's every move.
Cookies can be blocked/deleted from a computer by configuring the browser settings, deleting browsing history, deleting cookie files that are stored in the C:\ drive, and cleaning out trash bins. To block cookies from a computer,  configure the browser security settings to “High” or “Block All Cookies,” this will deter all cookies from being stored on the computer. Locate the browsing history in the browser to delete the browsing history including the add-ons. Go to the C:\ drive to locate where the cookie files are kept and “select all” to delete them. Delete the cookies that are located in the trash bin by selecting delete entire contents of bin.  Deleting the cookies from the computer is the second best defense; blocking them is the first.
The best protection against malicious websites is to configure the cookie settings to High or Block All Cookies. Before configuring the cookie setting to low, ensure the website is trusted; if it is, precede with caution regardless what the website states. Also, deletion of the cookies will free up space in the C:\ to allow the computer to run faster. Cookies are neither good nor bad but they are required for some transactions to work over the internet (e-commerce). Always use common sense when determining if a cookie is acceptable or not.