Categories: How it Works

Cookies... Not just for dunking in Milk!

Cookies are used both in real-life and online, the main difference being real-life cookies can be used to store Milk which is then transferred to your mouth and stomach, while digital cookies are used to store data which is transferred to websites. It’s not really that simple, but in a nutshell that is the main purpose of a cookie.

Mmmmmm.....Cookie!
Mmmmmm.....Cookie!

An HTTP Cookie (better known as a web cookie, internet cookie, browser cookie or simply cookie) is a simple text file containing specific information that is stored on your computer. This file is then used by the website that created the file in the first place to obtain specific information about you.

When accessing certain websites (E.g. Facebook, Amazon, LinkedIn, etc.) a cookie is created by the website and left on your computer. Each time a certain predefined activity is performed either on the website in question or online, the cookie is updated with the new information.

When accessing the host website, this information is sent back to the website in question and used to improve your online experience (in many cases). The key thing to remember at this point is that a cookie is used to store information about you, and this information and file is stored on your computer (or device).

What are Cookies used for?

There are many reasons websites would make use of cookies, some websites would use them to remember your login details while others may use them to remember your name of favourite colour the next time you visit.

Have you ever allowed a website to “remember you” when logging in? Well, the chances are that the website created a cookie on your computer with your login details.

Whenever you access the website again the information stores in this cookie is used to automatically log you into the website in question.

Another use would be to track your browser activity (and history). Companies like Google use cookies to track your browser activity, which they then use to show targeted advertising to you. For instance, if you are in the market to purchase a new vehicle you generally do a quick search to find showrooms close to your area. During this search, a cookie is used to store the activity which is then sent back to Google – thus Google is able to determine your interest. If a vehicle manufacturer places an advert online, this cookie information is used to determine who the advert should be displayed to. 

What are the different types of Cookies available?

There is a wide range of cookies available, below are merely a couple of the key ones. This is not a complete list of the cookies available.

  • Session Cookies
    A session cookie is a temporary cookie that exists only while you are browsing a website, as soon as the website is closed the session is broken and permanently deleted.
     
  • Persistent Cookie
    Instead of expiring when your browser is closed, a small text file is stored on your computer which stores the information requested. Persistent cookies have an expiry date linked to them; however this date is determined by the website that creates the cookie. Persistent cookies can expire within minutes, hours, days, week, or even years.
     
  • Secure Cookie
    A secure cookie can only be transmitted over an encrypted connection (i.e. HTTPS). They cannot be transmitted over an unencrypted connection (i.e. HTTP), thus this makes these type of cookies less likely to be exposed to cookie theft.
     
  • Same Site Cookies
    A same site cookie means that the information stored in the cookie can only be transmitted to the website that initially created the cookie, thus it cannot be shared with a third-party website.
     
  • Third-party Cookie
    A third-party cookie means that the information stored in the cookie can be transmitted to a website with a different domain name than that which initially created the cookie. For instance, if iWits leaves a third-party cookie on your computer (which we have not), any other website (i.e. Google, Facebook, etc.) can read the information contained in the cookie.
     
  • Zombie Cookies
    We are purely including the zombie cookie due to its name. A zombie cookie can be re-created after it has been deleted. Generally zombie cookies tend to store the information in question on multiple locations, thus if the cookie is deleted another cookie is simply recreated with the information stored in a different location.

What are malicious cookies?

A cookie in itself cannot harm your computer (or device); however the information that it stores and the website the information is sent to is generally where the problem lies. Malicious cookies are cookies that try to gather your personal information deviously without any concern for your privacy, once the information is obtained it is then transmitted to the website (or person) who chooses to use it maliciously.

We would also advise reading a websites privacy policy and third-party policy to determine what they are doing with the information stored in their cookies and what type of information they are storing. In the end of the day it is your online privacy is your own responsibility, so make sure you understand the terms under which you are using an online service, website or platform.

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