What Are Cookies?


When browsing the Internet, users are often prompted with the option to “Accept all cookies” to continue. What does this mean? Is it safe to accept? Here’s what you need to know about the different types of cookies and how to surf the Internet safely.

What are cookies?

In short, cookies are packets of data sent to your browser by a website. They help the website remember your previous visit, or other bits of information about your Internet browsing like usernames and passwords. This makes browsing easier, often allowing a website to adapt to your personal interests and history. While cookies are essential for the Internet browsing experience, they are also a source for vulnerabilities for your privacy and sensitive information. Most cookies are perfectly safe, and are only used to make your website visits more convenient and personal. However, they can also be used to track your activity and personal information on the Internet without your consent and allow your data to become vulnerable to attacks from cybercriminals.

Types of Cookies

Magic Cookies: Magic cookies are rarely used today, but they refer to cookies in which the packets of data containing your information are sent and received without changes being made. Essentially, magic cookies alert the server of the presence of a client while tracking and authenticating the client. The “magic” in magic cookies refers to the embedded, or obscure, data known only to the server and not the client.

HTTP Cookies: Also known as internet cookies, web cookies, or browser cookies, HTTP cookies are small packets of data created by a web server while a client is browsing the site. These are the cookies used most often today. There are 3 different types, each explained below.

Session cookies are just as they sound, cookies that are temporary and used per session per web page. Browsing data is remembered while you are on a particular site, but wiped clean as soon as you close the web page for which the session cookies are activated for. These types of cookies may allow online shopping sites to hold items in your cart, for example.

Persistent cookies (First-Party, Permanent, or Stored Cookies) are cookies which store your data over longer periods of time so that sites can remember your data and activity after closing a web page. Data in these cookies will eventually be deleted when the cookie reaches its expiration date, but they are how computers remember your login information and setting preferences.

Third-Party cookies, also known as tracking cookies, are cookies that may seem the most intrusive as they are responsible for personalized targeted ads you observe while on the Internet. These cookies collect various types of data to track your interests, including your demographic information, location, online behavior, and search history. This information is tracked to be sold to marketing companies and advertisers. As a rule, it is a good idea to block third-party cookies if you are given the option.

Cookie Vulnerabilities

Cookie poisoning describes the alteration or theft of a user’s cookies by an attacker. Because cookies can contain personal information, such as usernames, passwords, and elements of browsing activities, attackers can attempt to use cookies to enter users’ accounts and access more sensitive data.

To be safe, its always a good idea to delete cookies after a session on a website. Clear your cookie cache in your settings frequently, and disable third-party cookies in your browser settings. If you’re browsing a website, check to see if the site will function properly without accepting cookies before doing so. And as always, make sure to have complicated passwords and update them regularly.

How to Clear Your Cookies: On Chrome go to the menu on the top right and click More Tools, from there click clear browsing data (CRTL+SHIFT+DEL shortcut) you will get a pop-up asking if you want to delete cookie data, browsing data, cached images. Similarly on Microsoft Edge click on the elipses menu on the top right corner and go to settings, then privacy, searches, and services; on this page you can choose what type of browsing data you want to clear.


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