“When You’re Down and Feeling Worse, Keep a Cookie in Your Purse. ” -Anonymous

Well, what about keeping a cookie in your browser? The question that comes to most of our minds when we see the message, “This website uses cookies”, is, should I allow it? Is it safe?

To be honest, we interact with HTTP cookies every day while we are active on the internet. It’s only recently that most internet users have raised concerns about cookies misusing their privacy and security. 

But does internet cookies do only harm and no good? Keep reading to understand cookies better, why we use them, and, most importantly, are we risking our privacy?

HTTP cookie is a text file saved in your browser by a website when you visit it. The website uses cookies to extract information about users’ interactions for various analytical purposes. Some cookies store your login information, while others keep track of the products you have in your shopping cart. 

Cookies stored in your browser contain a unique identifier called a cookie ID, which the website uses to identify different users. Cookies are browser-specific, so if you visit the same website from a different browser or a different device, it considers you as a different user. Also, if you clear your cookies from the browser, the website considers you as a new user and drop a cookie into your browser when you visit the next time.

What are cookies used for?

If you see the larger picture, cookies are helpful for both the user and the website. Let’s discuss how we can use cookies for different benefits:

  • Personalisation: Users can use cookies to personalise their website settings, such as choosing a theme or a language. The cookies store the settings, which can be accessed by the user every time they return to the website. However, if the user deletes the cookies from the browser, the settings automatically get deleted.
  • Session Management: The website uses cookies to store various session details whenever the user interacts with the website. The data is used for retargeting the user when they exit from the website without making any purchase. Not limited to it, the cookies also stores the login details such as the username and password of the user. It helps the user login without entering the credentials each time they visit the website. Also, the auto-fill option we see when we fill an online form results from cookies storing your personal details. 
  • Tracking: Cookies are used to track the users’ web browsing habits, such as the number of web pages visited by the user, time spent on each page, or activities performed on a page. Basically, the cookies store all your interactions with the website in each session, and therefore, it is often advised not to visit any insecure websites. 

What are the types of HTTP Cookies?

Cookies can be classified into types based on the functionality they perform. Mentioned below are a few types of internet cookies.

1. Session Cookies

Session cookies are also known as temporary cookies because they expire as soon as the user exits the website. To be more specific, session cookies are automatically deleted from the browser when the user leaves the website. So when you come across any website that asks you to enter your login credentials every time you visit, know that it uses session cookies.

2. Persistent Cookies

Persistent cookies are the one that remains saved in the browser even when the user exits them. However, some persistent cookies have an expiration date and get deleted automatically once the date is reached. Persistent cookies can be further classified into first-party cookies, third-party cookies, and zombie cookies.

  • First-Party Cookies

First-party cookies are dropped into your browser by the website you visit. With the help of cookies, the website collects valuable information to improve the user experience. The information can be accessed only by the website that has stored the cookie in your browser. 

  • Third-Party Cookies

Third-party cookies are stored in your browser by domains other than the one you visit. These are usually used for advertising or retargeting purposes and can be accessed by any website that uses the third-party server code.

  • Zombie Cookies

Zombie cookies, also known as flash cookies, are stored by a third-party domain and get permanently installed in the users’ browser even when they choose not to install any cookies. The worst part about zombie cookies is that they can reappear even after the user deletes them. 

How to manage cookies in a browser?

Most browsers allow users to manage the cookies by letting them enable or block the cookies or delete the existing cookies from the browser setting. Some browsers allow the user to set different cookie preferences for various websites. Also, the incognito or the private mode available on different browsers doesn’t store the browsing data or cookies once the tabs are closed. 

Are HTTP cookies safe?

So, there is no perfect answer to decide whether HTTP cookies are safe or not. Some of the cookies are really helpful in creating better user experiences as they store information about your themes, login credentials, language, etc. Also, the websites can not change the data collected by the cookies, so there are no chances of data manipulation. 

Cookies also cannot harm your devices by infecting them with viruses or malware but can be hijacked by cyber attackers and get access to the browsing history. However, some cookies can create more harm than others. 

As stated above, first-party cookies can be accessed only by the website you visit and so can be safe as long as you visit genuine websites. On the other hand, third-party and zombie cookies can be accessed by different websites, therefore, have more chances of being attacked by cyber attackers. And not to forget, zombie cookies are really difficult to delete.

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