Cookies (the browser kind)

Everyone loves cookies! Unless you mean the kind that websites use to track your browsing habits. But wait! Before you condemn all cookies as evil, let us tell you what they are. We break down some of their uses as well as ways to deal with them on your computer!

What are Cookies?

A cookie is small file sent by a website to your browser when you visit it. It stores some arbitrary bit of data such as if you are logged into the site. Or if you have items in your shopping cart.

Types of Cookies

There are a few different types of cookies depending on their function.

Session – exists only in temporary memory while the user navigates the website. Web browsers normally delete these when the user closes the browser. Unlike other cookies, sessions do not have an expiration date assigned to them, which is how the browser knows to treat them the way they do.

Persistent – expires at a specific date or after a specific length of time. This means that, for the cookie’s entire lifespan, its information will be transmitted to the server. Every time the user visits the website. Or every time the user views a resource belonging to that website from another website (such as an advertisement).

For this reason, persistent cookies are sometimes referred to as tracking cookies. They can be used by advertisers to record information about a user’s web browsing habits. However, they are also used for “legitimate” reasons. (Such as keeping users logged into their accounts on websites. Or to avoid re-entering login credentials at every visit).

These are reset if the expiration time is reached or the user manually deletes them.

Secure – can only be transmitted over an encrypted connection (HTTPS).

Http-only – cannot be accessed by client-side APIs, such as JavaScript. This restriction eliminates the threat of cookie theft via cross-site scripting (XSS).

Same-site – can only be sent in requests originating from the same origin as the target domain.

Third-party – belongs to a domain different from the one shown in the address bar. Most modern web browsers contain privacy settings that can block these.

Supercookie – has an origin of a top-level domain (such as .com) or a public suffix (such as .co.uk). These can be a potential security concern and are therefore often blocked by web browsers.

Zombie – is automatically recreated after being deleted. This is accomplished by storing the cookie’s content in multiple locations.

Disabling Cookies

You can choose to disable cookies in your browser settings but keep in mind that most websites require you to use them in order for the website to function properly. But if you are concerned or annoyed by a specific site, you could clear your browser cache to remove the cookie.

Or, to prevent downloading cookies altogether you could activate your browser’s private or incognito mode when you go to that site.

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