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Computer Cookies: What They Are and How They Work
November 26, 2018
Check out our infographic showing how computer cookies work
Computer cookies are an integral technology supporting the modern online browsing experience. Today's online searchers and shoppers benefit from browser cookies but many may still not fully understand what computer cookies are or how they work in the background to aid in your everyday online experience. Additionally, many may not fully understand the linkage between web cookies and their browsing activity, and the associated implications for data privacy and security.
Review our internet cookies infographic below to gain a better understanding of this ubiquitous technology that underpins modern-day web browsing.
What are computer cookies?
When you visit a website, your web server transfers a small packet of data to your device’s browser: a computer cookie. This cookie is designed to remember information about you, including a record of your website visits and activity.
A computer cookie may also be referred to as:
- HTTP cookie
- Web cookie
- Internet cookie
- Browser cookie
How do cookies work?
Computer cookies are small files, often including unique identifiers, that web servers send to browsers. These cookies may be sent back to the server each time your browser requests a new page.
- To tailor the website experience to you
- To track your activity as you navigate the website
- To recognize your computer
- To enhance the website’s usability
- To analyze your use of the website
Computer cookies: Three different flavors
1. Persistent cookie
- Stores data for an extended duration
- Comes with an expiration date
- Stores your username and password for easier login
Persistent cookies in action
When you log in to a site and ask it to “Remember You”, a persistent cookie stores your username and password, making it quicker for you to log in in the future.
2. Session cookie
- These are temporary cookies
- Get deleted when you close your browser
- Keeps items in your shopping cart even if you navigate to other pages
Session cookies in action
When you’re online shopping on a specific site, a session cookie keeps the items you’ve selected in your shopping cart, even if you click on different pages around the site.
3. Third-party cookie
- Known as tracking cookies
- Collect data about your online behavior
- Used by advertisers to display ads based on your previous online behavior
Third-party cookies in action
Imagine you look at a pair of shoes on a website, but don’t purchase them. Third-party cookies store your online viewing information, and pass that onto advertisers. The next day, you see an ad on your social media account for the exact pair of shoes you were looking for - it’s not magic, it’s third-party cookies.
Beware of the supercookie
A supercookie is a “super” type of tracking cookie that isn’t stored at the browser level, but rather at the network level.
Supercookies can travel across browsers, and are permanent. The biggest risk of supercookies is that they can access information such as your browsing habits, login credentials, and image caches - even after you’ve deleted your cookies.
How to defend against a supercookie
- Use an encrypted connection
- Use a virtual private network (VPN)
How to find and manage your cookies
1) Open your browser
2) Determine where cookies are stored, based on your browser:
- Click Tools
- Click Internet Options
- Select General
- Select Browsing History
- Click Settings
- Click Chrome Menu
- Choose Preferences
- Expand Advanced Settings
- Select Privacy and Security
- Open Content Settings
- Select Cookies
Don’t block all cookies
Keep persistent cookies so that you can easily log in without having to input your username and password. For example, it’s beneficial to keep cookies that have your login credentials to sites like Facebook or your email platform.
Instead, block certain cookies
Choose a setting that controls the amounts and types of cookies so that your online experience is safe, but functional. For example, you may want to disallow all third-party cookies but allow first-party/session cookies.
Learn more about modern computing technologies, human-computer interaction, and the latest technology trends impacting consumers and businesses on HP® Tech Takes.
- Norton; What are Computer Cookies?
- SearchSecurity; What is Supercookie?
- Panda Security Mediacenter; How Do Cookies Work?
- The Tech Terms Computer Dictionary; Cookie Definition
- Opentracker; Third-Party Cookies vs First-Party Cookies
- Indiana University (IU) Knowledge Base; What are Cookies?
- NordVPN; What are Super Cookies and How to Remove Them?