What are cookies ?
Also called browser cookies or tracking cookies, cookies are small text files, usually encrypted, located in the directory of your browser. They are used by Internet publishers to help users navigate websites and perform certain functions. Because of their fundamental role of improving the usability or the functions of the site, the complete deactivation of cookies can prevent users from using certain websites. This is how some sites know when you are coming back and keep you signed in, or display a particular page that you like. Often, a cookie can be used to display certain content only once, such as a pop-up or other advertisement that only shows the first time you visit a site, not every time you change pages or visit again.
Cookies are created when your browser loads a particular website. The website sends information to the browser, which then creates a text file. Each time the user returns to the same website, the browser retrieves and sends this file to the web server. Cookies are created not only by the website visited by the user, but also by other websites that serve ads, widgets or other page elements. These cookies govern how ads are displayed or how widgets and other elements of the page work.
Standard uses for browser cookies
Websites set cookies to help authenticate a user if they log in to a secure area of a website. Login information or credentials are stored in a cookie so that the user can enter and exit the website without having to re-enter the same login information.
Session cookies are used by the web server to store information about the activities of user pages, so that users can easily choose where they left off on the server pages. Without using such cookies, a web page cannot “remember” where you were on your last visit – this can only be done with the use of session cookies. Session cookies tell the server which pages to show the user so that the user does not have to remember where he / she stopped or to start browsing the site again. Session cookies almost function as a “bookmark” when they are used on such a site. Similarly, cookies can store the order information necessary for the proper functioning of the baskets instead of forcing the user to remember all the items he has put in the basket. This is very useful if your system experiences a loss of connectivity or if your computer freezes while filling a basket.
Persistent or tracking cookies
Persistent cookies store user preferences. Many websites allow users to customize exactly how information is presented via site layouts or themes. These customizations facilitate navigation on the site and / or allow the user to leave part of his “personality” on the site.
Cookie security and privacy issues
Cookies are NOT viruses. Cookies use a plain text format. These are not pieces of compiled code, so they cannot be executed and are not self-executing. As a result, they cannot reproduce and spread to other networks to run and reproduce again. Since they cannot perform these functions, they do not fall under the standard virus definition.
Cookies can however be used for malicious purposes. Because they store information about a user’s preferences and browsing history, both on a specific site and on multiple sites, cookies can be used as a form of spyware.