The Weekly Geek

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Internet Cookies

December 24th, 2008 · No Comments

Howdy and welcome to a Christmas edition of The Weekly Geek.

I want to help clear up some misconception that I and my colleagues in the Computer Security field have created. Recently the free program Ad-Aware which had been a great tool for cleaning up spyware, malware and crapware seems to have becomes a cookie cleaning program. This program labels many cookies as “critical” security issues when in fact they are not. Now, by no means am I stating that all cookies are “good” I just think that we might have overly hyped their nuisance.

Cookies are small text files placed on your computer via your web browser from Web sites to personalize your surfing experience. Cookies can track the user’s activity, to the best of my knowledge they do NOT access your hard drive or information on your computer. They can be deleted at any time (we will go into that shortly). They only remember information that they were programmed to gather so legitimate web sites will disclose this, lazy web master’s wont. Cookies inherently are not malicious and do not spread other infections like Viruses or Worms. In its pure form, a cookie will watch for a specific activity. Let’s say that every time you log-onto a web site it welcomes you personally. That is because at one point you entered information that was stored in a cookie for that specific web site. The cookie will probably store when you last visited the web site and maybe even specific pages you visited.

Some web sites have advertisements or product links. They might push a cookie or place one if you click on the link. Usually advertising cookies watch for product types. If you constantly click on Golfing links then an advertising cookie will store that and the advertiser will “market” to you based on what sites you visit.

Since cookies and “track” where you have been and allow others to see your surfing habits, a little paranoia will go a long way. Downloading a good cookies management program will allow you to see the cookie names and maybe even the business that is using them. This will allow you to keep, temporarily keep or delete any new cookies. I use and really like Analog X’s CookieWall. Internet browsers have ways to manage cookies too.

With Internet Explorer (IE) you can adjust the privacy of cookies by:

  • Opening up IE, then selecting “Tools” from the Menu Bar.
  • Next select “Internet Options”. A new window will appear.
  • Click on the “Privacy” tab and then select the “Custom” button.
  • A new window labeled “Advanced Privacy Settings” will appear.
  • Click next to “Override automatic cookie handling” and then choose to “Accept” First Party Cookies, many sites just won’t work unless you do this.
  • Next you can choose “Block” or “Prompt” for the Third-party Cookies. I block them since the vast majority of the time they are the advertising cookies. I also check the box next to “Always allow session cookies” otherwise I have issues with sites like Yahoo.
  • Back on the “General” tab you can choose to “delete all cookies”. If you do, any sites that you automatically log onto will lose your personal information so you might have to re-enter your username and password.

If you use Opera as your internet browser you can modify the cookie settings by:

  • opening Opera, selecting “Tools” and then “Preferences” from the drop down menu.
  • In the new window select the “Advanced” tab and then click on “Cookies” from the left hand column. Your choices are “Accept cookies”, “Accept only cookies from the site I visited” and “Never accept cookies”.
  • You can also choose “Delete when exiting Opera” and / or “Ask me before accepting cookies”.
  • Finally you can view, edit, add and delete existing cookies from here.

In Firefox:

  • you open the browser, choose “Tools” and then “Options” from the drop down list.
  • In the new window select the “Privacy” tab (it has a padlock picture on it).

Below that is another set of tabs. Select “cookies”. Here you have many similar choices to the above, you can “allow sites to set cookies”, “for the originating site only”, “unless I have removed cookies set by the site”, and you can choose how long to keep the cookies.

To learn more about cookies visit ComputerHope.com and check out their dictionary or Webopedia.com and search for “cookie”.

I hope this dispels any myths that have been created and guides you with some wisdom about cookies. Until we meet again, have a virus free week.

Tags: Internet · Malware · Security

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