As you’re browsing away on the Internet, you may have come across a few websites that give a message about their site using cookies and for you to accept their settings. This may leave you asking, are computer cookies bad for your computer?
Well in this article, that’s what we’re going to discover.
We will discuss the different aspects of computer cookies and determine whether or not they’re bad. And if they are bad, just how bad are they, and what damage do they do to your computer?
So let’s dive in and learn more about computer cookies.
Computer Cookies – What Are They?
Computer cookies are small files that websites place on your computer to track your activity.
They contain information such as your login credentials, browsing preferences, and browsing history. Cookies are used by websites to personalize your experience and make the overall experience that you have with their site a pleasant one, each you visit.
Many people worry about the security implications of cookies.
While some cookies can be dangerous, most are harmless and serve a useful purpose. Take, for instance, browsing preference. Cookies can help websites remember your language preference or remember your log information, so you don’t have to enter that information every time you visit the site. In some instances, some sites will keep you logged in, so every time you re-visit the site, you get right in, without having to log in.
That may not be the safest method from a security perspective, but it is in fact an option.
It’s important to be aware of how cookies work and what information they contain so you know how to interact with them on websites.
What Happens if You Accept Cookies?
Accepting cookies from most websites is fine to do, as long as you know that site to be a credible one.
Cookies won’t harm your computer or put your personal information at risk. However, it’s important to understand what happens when you accept them.
First and foremost, accepting cookies allows websites to remember certain information about you, such as your username and password, and browsing preference. In our definition of computer cookies above, we discussed how this benefits you as the user, making logging in faster and easier.
Should you accept or decline that message?
As I mentioned before, in most cases, it’s fine to do so, as long as you know that site is a credible one. Another deciding factor, as to whether you should use a website’s cookie, is if it’s a site you know you will be visiting again, or visit regularly.
It’s worth noting that not all cookies are created equal, some are more invasive than others and should be mentioned.
For example, third-party tracking cookies can be used by advertisers that place their cookies on someone else’s website, as a “third party”, in order to gather information about you, as a user. These types of cookies follow you around the web and gather information about your online behavior.
Another type of cookie is the session cookie. This can be compared to short-term memory for websites, like RAM (Random Access Memory), but for websites. They exist only to assist the website to retain information for you, as you’re browsing that site. And just like a computer’s short-term memory, it loses all that information the moment you close out of that website.
There are other types of cookies that I go more into detail about in another article. Feel free to check out that article to learn more.
Although computer cookies aren’t inherently bad, some people can use them to do bad things. One of the ways to safeguard against becoming a victim of any cybercrime via cookies is to remove them from your device or computer.
It’s a pretty simple process to do, so this section will be fairly short.
Removing cookies from your computer is done mainly through your web browser. Given that Google Chrome is the most used web browser worldwide, I’ll provide the instructions for Google Chrome.
Here are the instructions to remove cookies in Google Chrome:
- Open Google Chrome.
- At the top right of the browser, click the 3 vertical dots and select Settings.
- On the left menu, select Privacy and Security.
- Under Privacy and Security, you will see Clear Browsing Data, click on that option.
- On the next screen, make sure the “Cookies and other site data” box is checked, and click the Clear Data button.
This will remove whatever cookies have been installed on your computer.
The instructions for other browsers such as Mozilla Firefox and Microsoft Edge, are very similar to that of Google Chrome. So you shouldn’t have much difficulty achieving the same results with those other browsers, using the above instructions.
Risks Associated with Cookies
As we’ve discussed so far, cookies were designed mainly to make browsing websites more convenient and personalized. However, they also come with risks that users should be aware of.
There are two main risks in my opinion that I think all the other ones fall under, and those two are the ones I’ll spend time talking about here. So let’s discuss what these risks are, and what you can do about them.
One risk is the invasion of privacy.
Cookies can track your online activities across different websites over time, building a profile of your interests and preferences. This information can be used by advertisers to target you with personalized ads or sold to third-party data brokers without your consent.
It does happen often, unfortunately, as we’re constantly being monitored as we casually browse the Internet. It’s how marketers know what ads to put in front of us while we’re browsing. They know what we like from what we don’t like.
Another risk is security vulnerabilities.
This is where those “bad things” I mentioned come into play. There are cyber criminals called hackers that can exploit cookies to gain access to your account information or steal sensitive data through a process called cross-site scripting (XSS).
This is where hackers execute or inject malicious scripts into a trusted application or file, like a cookie to do their dirt.
Hopefully, by now you have learned that cookies are not inherently bad.
Their benefits do outweigh their cons, as their main purpose is to personalize users’ experience as they interact with a website. Additionally, they do help to improve website performance and assist in online advertising.
Although the advertising part is done without our permission, it’s with good intent. As marketers understand us more by paying attention to the content we are browsing online, they’ll have a better idea of what to present to us that we could purchase while we’re browsing.
As far as potential risks associated with cookies.
There will always be risks, you just have to be more vigilant as a user as to what gets downloaded on your computer. If you don’t want to accept the cookies that certain websites present, then you can decline their offer and continue to browse their site without your preferences being recorded.
Or as an alternative, remove the cookies from your computer via your web browser once you’re done browsing. Following the instructions provided above will clear out all the cookies that are installed on your computer.
So next time you see a cookie notification pop up on your screen, don’t panic! Evaluate the situation and make an informed decision about how you want to proceed.