What are cookies?
Authored by a Symantec employee
Mention “cookies” and most people expect a chocolate chip treat to appear. When talking about computers, however, cookies aren’t on the dropdown menu. In fact, they’re not even physical objects. Yet they do a great deal of the work that makes it more convenient for you to browse the Internet — and they can be troublesome if you don’t know how to clear or delete cookies.
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Meet the computer cookie
A computer “cookie” is more formally known as an HTTP cookie, a web cookie, an Internet cookie or a browser cookie. The name is a shorter version of “magic cookie,” which is a term for a packet of data that a computer receives and then sends back without changing or altering it.
No matter what it’s called, a computer cookie consists of information. When you visit a website, the website sends the cookie to your computer. Your computer stores it in a file located inside your web browser. (To help you find it, this file is often called “Cookies.”)
What do browser cookies do?
Different types of cookies keep track of different activities. Session cookies are used only when a person is actively navigating a website; once you leave the site, the session cookie disappears. Tracking cookies may be used to create long-term records of multiple visits to the same site. Authentication cookies track whether a user is logged in, and if so, under what name.
Are Internet cookies safe?
Under normal circumstances, cookies cannot transfer viruses or malware to your computer. Because the data in a cookie doesn’t change when it travels back and forth, it has no way to affect how your computer runs.
However, some viruses and malware may be disguised as cookies. For instance, “supercookies” can be a potential security concern, and many browsers offer a way to block them. A “zombie cookie” is a cookie that re-creates itself after being deleted, making zombie cookies tough to manage. Third-party tracking cookies can also cause security and privacy concerns, since they make it easier for parties you can’t identify to watch where you are going and what you are doing online.
Where to look to enable or delete cookies
Here’s how to find and manage your cookies in order to protect your privacy online:
- Find where cookies are stored. Each browser manages cookies in a different location. For example, in Internet Explorer, you can find them by clicking “Tools” and then “Internet Options.” From there, select “General” and “Browsing history” and “Settings.” In Chrome, choose “Preferences” from the Chrome menu in the navigation bar, which will display your settings. Then expand the “Advanced” option to display “Privacy and security.” From there, open “Content settings” and “Cookies.”
- Manage your cookies. Every browser gives you a range of options for enabling or deleting cookies. Internet Explorer, for instance, allows you to manage cookies under “Privacy” and “Advanced.” In Chrome, find where cookies are stored as outlined above, then select your management options under “Cookies.”
Banning all browser cookies could make some websites difficult to navigate. However, a setting that controls or limits third-party and tracking cookies can help protect your privacy while still making it possible to shop online and carry out similar activities.
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