Online Cookies: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

Print   1000 words   2018-12-01

A really important part of browsing the web pages is speed. Users want the ultimate speed of website surfing. Web browsers are getting better and faster and websites remove unnecessary scripts and webmasters are moving to static sites and so many other things because they know the first thing user cares about visiting a website is speed.

People won’t wait till a heavy website loads and then search for what they want. People want everything in less than a minute. As a matter of fact, new research says, you as a webmaster have only 5 seconds to tell your visitor/user what is your website including or user will close the window.

Nowadays websites are using text files including ready-to-provide data, mostly to identify users and possibly prepare customized Web pages or to save site login information. These text files are named “Web Cookies”.

Cookies will help users and webmasters to store information that is usually needed and makes surfing websites easier and faster. Because of web cookies you don’t need to login every time you open your email provider or your web browser shouldn’t open CSS files every time. For example, first time you open and see the website, the website will store a cookie file with information about the website’s style so next time you, you don’t have to wait till the style.css loeads. Cookies will help you surf faster by storing some of the website’s information on you device whether it’s your PC, Mac or mobile phone.

Spinning Cookie An illustration by Lifewire

The problem with cookies is most of the time we don’t know what information is stored on our devices and we don’t know are the cookies on our devices malicious or they’re safe. Cookies can store information and also they provide this information, so we should be careful about the behavior of cookies.

Also called a transient cookie, a cookie that is erased when you close the Web browser. The session cookie is stored in temporary memory and is not retained after the browser is closed. Session cookies do not collect information from your computer. They typically will store information in the form of a session identification that does not personally identify the user.

Also called a permanent cookie, or a stored cookie, a cookie that is stored on your hard drive until it expires (persistent cookies are set with expiration dates) or until you delete the cookie. Persistent cookies are used to collect identifying information about the user, such as Web surfing behavior or user preferences for a specific Web site.

Cookies have six parameters that can be passed to them:

  • The name of the cookie.
  • The value of the cookie.
  • The expiration date of the cookie - this determines how long the cookie will remain active in your browser.
  • The path the cookie is valid for - this sets the URL path the cookie us valid in. Web pages outside of that path cannot use the cookie.
  • The domain the cookie is valid for. This makes the cookie accessible to pages on any of the servers when a site uses multiple servers in a domain.
  • The need for a secure connection - this indicates that the cookie can only be used under a secure server condition, such as a site using SSL.

How Cookies Work Photo is owned by, Jesse Hallett

Malicious Cookies

Cookies normally do not compromise security, but there is a growing trend of malicious cookies. These types of cookies can be used to store and track your activity online. Cookies that watch your online activity are called malicious or tracking cookies. These are the bad cookies to watch for, because they track you and your surfing habits, over time, to build a profile of your interests. Once that profile contains enough information there is a good chance that your information can be sold to an advertising company who then uses this profile information to target you with interest specific adverts. Many antivirus programs today will flag suspicious spyware or adware cookies when scanning your system for viruses

First and Third-Party Cookies

When choosing a privacy setting in your browser, two terms you will see are “first-party cookies” and “third-party cookies”. First party cookies are those cookies that originate from (or be sent to) the Web site you’re currently viewing. These types of cookies usually will contain information about your preferences for that particular Web site. These cookies are usually Third-party cookies originate from (or will be sent to) a Web site that is not the site you are visiting. For example, if the Web site you are on using third-party advertising those third-party advertising Web sites may use a cookie to track your Web habits for marketing purposes.

While some may simply choose to block all cookies, it can make Web surfing difficult if you do this. For example if you shop online, many e-commerce shopping carts that have been implemented with cookies will not work. Sites you frequently visit which enable you to personalize content also will not show your preferences when you visit if you delete or disable that cookie.

Most cookies, despite some misconceptions, are legitimate files and will not invade your privacy. Once you get in the habit of reviewing the cookies associated with your browser and manage them on your own by way of deleting malicious cookies or trying different browser privacy settings, you can still keep the good cookies that make surfing a breeze, yet keep the bad cookies that may be tracking your surfing habits off your system.

For further reading: Please read “How does online tracking actually work?” by Robert Heaton.

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