A beginner’s guide to cookies

Cookies may sound deliciously appealing on the surface. There is a sweet side to allowing cookies on your devices and browser, and an occasional bitter taste if not managed properly.

First, understanding the basics of how cookies work with browsers will help you a lot in knowing when to accept or decline them.

Although cookies were developed in hopes of providing you with a more pleasant browsing or surfing experience, many have feared that accepting cookies means you are willingly giving away your personal information and making yourself vulnerable to hackers and malware. But is that true?

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Cookies are text files used to collect data.

Cookies are text files used to collect data.

What exactly are cookies?

In short, cookies are text files used to collect data. Cookies begin storing information when you connect to the website and tag your data with an ID that is unique to your computer. This allows the website to collect information that is unique to you and your previous activity on the website.

Websites primarily use cookies to improve your browsing experience by tracking how you use the website. When you return, they can promote and display things based on your previous visit by recognizing your computer.

For example, if you have visited an online store, on your next visit the website may advertise items that they think you might like based on what you have previously viewed or purchased. Most websites also use cookies to make their website more navigable and accessible to the general public.

How exactly do cookies work?

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  • As soon as you log into a website, your web server transmits the cookie to your browser
  • Your computer then stores the cookie on your hard drive.

There are three main types of cookies that you are likely to encounter when browsing the internet:

  • Persistent cookie
  • These cookies store data for a longer period of time
  • They have an expiration date that can range from a few days to a few years after your first visit

session cookies

  • Session cookies are only valid as long as your browser is open
  • As soon as you close your browser, all your information will be deleted.

Third party cookies

  • Also known as “tracking cookies”, these cookies track your general online behavior
  • Information collected from a single website visit is shared with advertisers
  • That advertiser can then promote articles on your social media based on your browsing history.
Cookies are text files used to collect data.

Cookies are text files used to collect data.
(cyberguy.com)

When cookies become a problem

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The possibility that your browsing history and other sensitive information can be easily tracked poses a privacy and security risk. Namely, they collect a lot of your personal data, including your IP address, your browsing history and should you be tracked by third-party cookies, your data may be sold to advertisers who will then target you.

Cookies are not immune to cyberattacks. A more dangerous scenario is when your computer or device is not secured with strong passwords and up-to-date security software. This information could potentially be accessed by cyber criminals who are able to break into cookies storing credit cards, financial credentials, and other sensitive information.

If privacy and security weren’t enough, there’s also a risk that a cookie could cause site performance issues. This can happen if you have stored a large number of cookies on your device, causing the browser you are using to become slower.

When should I not allow cookies?

Many websites cannot be accessed without accepting cookies. And as long as it’s a secure, trusted website, allowing cookies shouldn’t pose a threat. If a website you visit seems strange or untrustworthy, you should not allow cookies. An easy way to tell is to check the website address in your browser. Make sure the URL address starts with a padlock. This means that all data on the website is encrypted.

Occasionally you may be asked to enable or accept third-party cookies. These are the types of cookies that appeal to you the most. It’s probably best to opt-out of third-party cookies if you want to be extra careful, as you have no control over where your information might end up.

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Can I manage my cookies?

Luckily, like many browsers, Google Chrome offers an easy way to manage stored cookies:

  • Click on the Chrome menu
  • Click Settings
  • Click Privacy & Security
Cookies are text files used to collect data.

Cookies are text files used to collect data.
(cyberguy.com)

  • Click Cookies and other site data
Cookies are text files used to collect data.

Cookies are text files used to collect data.
(cyberguy.com)

Here you have several options, including whether you want to block all cookies.

Cookies are text files used to collect data.

Cookies are text files used to collect data.
(cyberguy.com)

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Blocking all cookies is not recommended as it may make it impossible to access certain websites and make it less convenient to log in to websites that you visit frequently. Blocking third-party cookies prevents your browsing activity across multiple websites from being easily recorded.

Ways to protect your private information

Although your information is safest on encrypted websites, especially if you have blocked third-party cookies, we can still inadvertently allow cookies on an insecure website. This immediately jeopardizes our online security. There are two ideal ways to protect yourself should this happen to you.

Use a VPN

A virtual private network or VPN hides your IP address by rerouting your data through an encrypted tunnel. This makes it almost impossible to track your online and browsing history. You choose ExpressVPN as the best VPN. The advantages of a VPN include:

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  • adds a layer of increased security
  • prevents internet service providers from monitoring your online activities
  • provides a way to bypass geo-fencing blocks
  • can help increase your connection speed

Limited time offer for CyberGuy readers, to read more of my review visit CyberGuy.com/VPN

Install trusted antivirus software for safer browsing

Having a reliable antivirus on your computer is best to warn you whether a website you are visiting is trustworthy or not, before you are even able to provide your personal information to an untrustworthy website.

One of the best antivirus apps for all devices including Android and iPhone is TotalAV.Your product is packed with features to protect you from malware and keep you safe while surfing the web, including ransomware protection, real-time antivirus, virus and malware removal, a tool to free up disk space on your computer, and much more.

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It is worth a small price to protect your personal information, data and all your devices from hackers.

See my expert rating of the best antivirus protection by searching “Best Antivirus” on CyberGuy.com.

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