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Are Your Cookies Safe?


The holiday season is upon us and we have many things to look forward to — even if this year will be a little bit different than others. This time of year the things that come to mind include: family, holiday festivities, and of course cookies! As a Managed Service Provider, people often ask us, are cookies safe?


But we're not talking about the kind of cookies your grandma bakes for you. In technological terms, cookies typically pop up on your internet browser. They track and store data in the deep corners of your hard drive. With lots of controversy surrounding cookies, many people don't know if they're a good or bad thing. You probably have seen notices regarding cookies on most major sites you visit asking permission to use cookies. This is in response to privacy laws in Europe and in many states to protect people's personal information and browsing habits. We expect to see these notices pop up more and more frequently as privacy laws become more stringent.


In this article, we delve into what exactly these oddly-named, annoying items on your browser are. And we discuss whether or not you should be worried about them.


What is a Cookie Anyway?


Sweet and tasty cookies have been around since the 17th century. But the type of cookie we are talking about today has been around since the mid-90s. The official name is an "HTTP Cookie". Designers at the time referred to this as a magic cookie of information. And ever since then, the name has stuck.


But what exactly does a cookie do? Cookies gather information when you browse the internet. They track what you are doing on a particular site or what you are doing while browsing in general. There are multiple forms of cookies so here are the more common types that you'll run into on the Internet:


Session Cookie


This appears on your web browser when you visit a website and tracks information such as your login, products you view, how long you were on a particular page, and other browsing habits. These are called session cookies because they terminate as soon as you close your browser or move to another page.


Persistent Cookie


Also known as tracking cookies, these cookies stay active even after you leave a site or close your browser. In general, these will track the sites you're visiting, but usually have an expiration date in which they become inactive. This is one of the most controversial form of cookies since they track your information outside of their original range. However, there are benefits to these cookies, such as storing your login info so you don't have to enter your information every time you visit your favorite sites. 


Third-Party Cookies


In general, the cookies on your computer are from the sites you visit. For example, if you visit Amazon.com, Amazon will create a cookie on your browser. Third-party cookies differ in that they attach themselves to your browser even if you’ve never visited their site. This may happen if there is a banner or another form of an advertisement on a site that you visit, even if you do not click on them. Many pop-up blockers disable this feature, although it's not uncommon to have more than 10 third-party cookies attached to your browser after visiting a site without any sort of cyber protection.


Should You Worry? Are Cookies Safe?


Cookies are an essential part of the ecosystem of the web, but are cookies safe? Massive amounts of small packets of information are passed around every second, and these packets usually play a role in marketing, sales, or captured analytical data. In general, cookies are harmless, or at most a nuisance.


You might be surprised by how much of your daily life on the Internet is dependent on cookies. Don't believe us? Go ahead and delete all your cookies on your web browser and then go about your daily business to see how many sites you now have to log into that were automatically accessed before. You’ll be surprised at how much information you’ll have to put in compared to before.


Cookies are not as invasive as they used to be. They typically contain tiny kilobits of information that take up almost no space on modern computers. Older Internet users may have been in the habit of deleting their cookies to save space, back when computers had very small hard drives.


Many browsers automatically block third-party cookies, so the only cookies on your computer are from sites that you've visited. Sometimes hackers can use certain cookies to gain access to your computer, and since third-party cookies are often weak entry points they become easy targets. Make sure your firewall and internet security is blocking hackers who might try to sneak in through these pathways.


Bottom Line about Cookies Safety


So, now that we have a better understanding of cookies, can we conclude that cookies are safe? In short, cookies shouldn’t be an issue in most circumstances and you should be fine when accepting them. The amount of memory they use is a nonissue these days.


However, few things in life are always straightforward, so there are two caveats. The first issue you should be aware of is that while cookies are mostly safe, there is always the chance that a cookie can be hacked and used nefariously. Second, certain operations do not allow cookies on their systems. For example, government and medical organizations may require absolute security and prohibit cookies.


If you have any questions about cookies on your system, contact us and we’ll ease your mind. As a Managed Service Provider, we will consult with you on any restrictions your organization is required to have in place. We’ll offer you a solution that will work for you in the long run.  


Remember: there's always the possibility that the wrong cookie may be bad for your computer or your diet!

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