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Cookies on a computer what they are used for

What Is A Cookie?

In this article, I want to explain as simply as possible what a cookie is and how to keep your information secure online. This information will review how we can do this for individual users and website owners. We will also discuss what business owners need to do to comply with laws about owning a website and how to keep your customers informed and secure while using your website. I have included some vocabulary to help those who may be new to this side of technology.

Vocabulary

A browser is software on your computer that allows you to search the internet—for example, Google Chrome.

Encryption – According to Oxford Dictionary and techtarget.com, encryption “is a process of converting information into a secret code that hides the information’s meaning to prevent unauthorized access.”

Hard Drive stores your digital content.

HTTP stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol

HTTPS stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure

I.P. Address is like a house address, but it is for your device. Every device has one, and it is unique to identify your device on the internet. It stands for Internet Protocol Address.

A Server is a computer or device that stores the information we access every time we visit a website. We usually access it through our internet provider.

SSL stands for secure sockets layer. It is a protocol for establishing secure links between networked computers.

SSL Certificate is a digital document that authenticates a website’s identity and enables an encrypted connection

VPN means a virtual private network that hides the user’s public I.P. address.

 

What Are Cookies?

A cookie is a small file of information that your browser request and the server sends to your computer to access a website or information on the internet. Then that information (cookie)  is stored on your computer or browser. So, each time you go to that web page, your browser sends a request for the files to display the webpage; if the cookie is on your computer, it is much faster to pull up that page. Understand there are different kinds of cookies (list at the end of article), and they store various types of data that help not only with user experience but also businesses understand what their customers are looking for.

What Are The Benefits Of Cookies?

For the user of the website

Cookies often get a bad reputation, but they are not necessarily bad. Keeping cookies on your hard drive or browser allows the computer to “remember” you. It not only remembers your preferences and habits online but also allows your computer to load faster each time you visit that website. This is why when you first visit a website, it may take some time for your device to load, but it loads faster the second time.

 In other words, they help with user experience and enhance or smooth out a website’s usability. For example, it can customize information for your location, like if you want to order Pizza, you go to your browser and type in Pizza. Your browser will bring up the pizza places close to you and not two hours away, saving you search time.

Cookies can also save your preferred language, easy login, suggest products, keep your online shopping cart, and save your information for auto-fill forms.

For the business and website owner

Through analytics, cookies can help you by providing information about what is happening on your website. For example, they can tell you how long an IP Address stays on your website and how often they return, what action buttons are being used, what pages are being looked at the most..etc. This information can help you improve the customer journey and experience. It also helps with SEO (search engine optimization) and allows customers to contact you through your website. 

What Is The Security Risk Of Cookies?

For the user of the website

First, cookies do not send viruses or malware to your computer. As the device user or on the internet, you must allow or give permission for viruses or malware to be put on your computer. You could unintentionally let this happen by filling out a form or pushing a button that may pop up on your computer screen, or you may go to an unsecured website and even open a strange email. This is why it is crucial to understand how viruses work and where information comes from on your device. (This is a topic for another time.)

The danger with cookies is that most users are unaware that information is stored on their hard drives or browsers. As a result, this information can be accessed by third parties, and it is easy for hackers to track browsing history. But again, most cookies are harmless and contain no personal information.

For the business and website owner

Hackers can access third parties cookies, making the user feel their information is unsafe. We need to inform users what we are using this information for and make sure you have a way for them to contact you directly if they do not feel secure giving their information through your website.

How Do We Keep Our Information Safe?

For the user of the website

According to Kaspersky.com “cookies can be an optional part of your internet experience. If you so choose, you can limit what cookies end up on your computer or mobile device.” If you refuse to use some cookies, you may not be able to use some websites or benefit from the “friendly” users experience…like having your preferred language saved or your shopping cart saved. Here are three things you can do to help with security.

  1. Clear(delete) your cookies on your desk drive and on your browser. Cookies are stored on your computer or browser and take up a lot of space on your hard drive, “memory,” slowing your computer down. That is why it is essential to delete your cookies every once in a while to free up space
  2. Use a VPN that will hide your I.P. address. The VPN adds a privacy layer.
  3. Make sure you only go to secure websites. It should have HTTPS in the web address, or it should show a lock near the website’s name in the browser. They have encryption to help provide an extra layer of security. HTTP can be easily hacked because there is no encryption.

For the business and website owner

We must take security measures to ensure customers’ collected cookies are not vulnerable to unauthorized access. We can do this by securing web hosting, tight network security, and even a web application firewall. We also need to ensure software and plugins are up to date, add HTTPS and an SSL certificate, and have strong passwords. You can read more about improving your website security from the article “10 Essential Steps To Improve Your Website Security.”

What Is A Cookie Policy?

A cookie policy informs the website user about what cookies (information) are being used on a particular website. Some states require that individuals be free to choose whether to accept cookies or not or even select what kind of cookies they will allow. This is why some websites will have a banner that pops up when you first land on their website and ask if you what you want to allow. (keep in mind, if you fill out a contact form, you are allowing the website to collect cookies; if you choose not to allow all cookies, you will not be able to fill out some forms.)

Do Business Owners Need To Have A Cookie Policy?

Yes and no. In the U.S., there is no federal cookie law. However, some states have laws that regulate cookies usage. According to allaboutcookies.org, “The USA has no specific federal cookie law. However, because other jurisdictions, such as the E.U., Brazil, and the state of California, specify strict cookie handling requirements, this may mean that even USA-based websites require a cookie policy. For example, suppose your U.S. website will likely have visitors from California, Virginia, the E.U., the U.K., or other U.S. states and geographies with privacy laws. In that case, you will need to provide a cookie policy for those visitors.”

So it is better to be safe than sorry for website owners. We never know what part of the U.S. or the world will visit our site. By not having a Cookie Policy, you will have to restrict access to your website from visitors from geographies that do not have privacy legislation,” according to allaboutcookies.com. So, not having a cookie policy could result in a loss of revenue for your business. We need to remember it is our responsibility as business/website owners to keep up with the laws and policies and implement them as soon as possible.

In Conclusion

Cookies are not all bad, but as a general rule, we must be careful when using our devices and accessing the web. Understanding new terminology and technology can be a challenge. But this is a protection for not only users but also business owners. Doing research ourselves gives us the power to make well-informed decisions. Also, it allows us to understand how things work for the good and protect us from the wrong side of technology. As business owners, we want to keep our customers informed and safe while allowing our business to thrive.

Different Types Of Cookies & What They Are Used For

This list is according to cookie-script.com and cybergostvpn.com

1. First-Party Cookies are stored directly on the website you visit. First-party Cookies let website owners collect data for analytical purposes, remember user settings, and provide other functions that help to boost the browsing experience for the user. Any website can use them. 

2. Third-Party Cookies track users between websites and display ads. They monitor your online behavior for analytics, studies, or research. The good news is at the end of 2023; Google announced that it would officially stop supporting third-party cookies on the Google Chrome browsers. However, advertising pop-ups, analytic tools, tracking tools, and ad-supported websites use them.

3. Flash Cookies or Local Shared Object is a text file sent by a server to your computer when the browser request contact. Adobe Flash plugin usually supports them.

4. Strictly Necessary Cookies/Session Cookies provide simple features like the ability to sign in. They remember a detail like your shopping cart and preferred language. They are stored on your computer and typically expire when you close the website. They are temporary cookies. Online stores, social media, news sites, and online banking use this type of cookie

5. Performance Cookies monitor site performance and use the data they collect to improve the website. For example, how long does a user stay on the web page? This type of cookie is anonymous. It does not track user information across websites.

6. Functional/Persistent Cookies enhance a website’s performance, allowing one to remember user preferences and settings, for example, local news stories. This type of cookie is anonymous. It does not track user information across websites. Google services, Analytics tools, social media, online stores, and online banking use these.

7. Targeting Cookies help with targeting ads

8. Supercookies connect you to the internet and your service provider. They are not stored locally on your computer, so you can not delete them. They monitor your browsing habits. According to dybergostvsn.com, “Version was fined $1.35 million for tracking its customers through supercookies and invading their privacy.” Your ISP (internet service provider) uses them.

9. Zombi Cookies are not stored in your browser. Instead, they monitor your activity even after you delete cookies. They are used by web analytics tools, advertisers, and online stores.

10. Persistent Cookies or Permanent Cookies only work for a specific time on a website. However, they help make a web experience faster.
Then we have cookies that help with security.

Then we have cookies that help with security.

1. Http-only Cookies help flag sensitive information about the user and should not be transferred beyond the server. All cookies except Flash cookies fall into this category.

2. Samesite Cookies only “act” as a cookie. They are used to control how cookies are submitted in requests. In addition, they are used by browsers to identify how first-party and third-party cookies should be handled. Browers can either allow or block these cookies.

3. Secure cookies can only be accessed through secure channels such as HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure). It establishes a secure connection between you and the website you visit using encryption and provides secure communication.”

Please get in touch with us if you have any questions about this article or want some assistance with your website. We would love to hear from you. 

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