Cookies: what are they and how are they affecting you?

Website Cookies In this week’s edition of our May Security Series, we’re going to discuss cookies. No- not that kind! Online cookies are text files that give you a unique ID which is tracked and used to create more customized web experiences. Although these are usually harmless, there has been a lot of skepticism over companies creating these features which are installed without user permission. This blog will teach you more about how cookies affect you and how to manage them.

Positive uses of cookies are those which save the items previously added to the “shopping cart” or store login information such as passwords. This information is stored in your server and when you visit websites your browser will pull up the cookie to customize the experience.  This process does not give any outside parties access to your servers but does allow them to see the personal information you’ve voluntarily entered on the website. Some cookies track activity only during access to a specific website while others last the entire browser session or for a set amount of time.

Many third party advertisers or analytics providers use this information to track your online activity across multiple websites. This raises security concerns because some companies then sell the demographic information and use it to more strategically target users for advertisements.  The more people that access webpages with advertisements, the more money the host website will make.

Flash-based cookies differ from traditional cookies because they are not stored on users’ computers and are harder to track. Institutions such as banks use these to add a second layer of verification for access. This means that when someone who has stolen bank login information tries to access it from a new computer, access won’t be granted. Because of user concerns, most of these types of cookies have been updated to require user authorization.

Thankfully, there are ways for users to manage their device’s cookies. Browsers allow users to completely disable cookies or allow only selected ones. We recommend dealing with these on a case-by-case basis because some websites require cookies for access and some of these features help enhance user experiences. These settings are different for every browser so be vigilant in checking each one. Click for easy to follow instructions are available for:

Overall, cookies are not a threat to your personal information security but they can be used to track your online behavior. It is important to stay aware of how your online activity is being monitored and how to protect yourself from cyber criminals. This month’s security series is complete but stay tuned to our blog for more tips and tricks, industry highlights, and company achievements!

 

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