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Merchant Security Awareness

A guide to understanding internet cookies.

August 17, 2023
August 17, 2023
2 mins read
Astor George
Astor George
Brand Storyteller

Editor's note:

Internet cookies are as old as the world wide web itself, dating back to the early 1990s. What are they? What do they do? Are they a security risk? And most importantly, can you have them with milk? We'll answer these questions and more in this blog post.

What are internet cookies?

Well, they’re not that kind of cookies, so you can’t have them with milk. They’re tiny files of text that allow communication between websites and web browsers. They’re a fundamental part of the internet browsing experience and help websites function properly. 

What is their purpose?

Their main purpose is to identify the user and remember various settings for the next time the user visits. For example, if you ask a site to remember your username, that information is stored in a cookie. Online shopping carts are another example of cookies at work. When you save an item to your cart, that item will remain there even if you close the browser so you can continue from where you stopped when you return. 

How many types of internet cookies are there?

  • Session cookies: are temporary and are deleted when you close a browser.
  • Persistent cookies: are long-term cookies that store user preferences, like usernames and language choices.
  • Third-party cookies: are data-tracking cookies that keep user activity for targeted advertising and marketing purposes. 

Where are internet cookies stored?

Most cookies are stored on the local hard drive of your computer. The web browser creates a folder or files it references whenever you revisit a website. Some browsers make multiple cookie files, while others store one file for all cookies. 

Are internet cookies a security threat?

Cookies themselves are harmless. However, attackers can find vulnerable websites and exploit them to steal or manipulate cookies. There are also privacy concerns regarding internet habits. Third-party cookies store and track various user data, which is how you see targeted advertisements for products and services.

How can one safely navigate internet cookies?

  • Never allow websites to store your password. The risk of doing this far outweighs the convenience. 
  • Be selective about which website’s cookies you accept. The best option is only to allow cookies for functional purposes, a feature some sites now have. 
  • To avoid being offered cookies, browse in incognito mode. Incognito mode blocks all cookies.
  • Occasionally delete cookies. In the security and privacy settings of the browser, you can ask it to clear the cache and delete cookies. 
  • Keep your browser updated. Consider enabling automatic updates on personal devices so you never miss a vital security patch. On work devices, always follow policies for when and how to apply updates. 

REMEMBER: The key to safely navigating internet cookies is to be cautious and remember the rules above. Do these things, and you’ll be safe. 

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