Cookies are vital to modern websites, but they pose a vulnerability to your privacy. As a crucial part of web browsing, cookies help website developers offer you more convenient and personalized web browsing. They allow websites to remember you, your shopping cart, web logins, and more. But they can be treasure troves of personal information for hackers.
Although most cookies are safe, criminals can exploit some of them to monitor your internet activity without your consent. Even worse, if cyber attackers gain access, they can spy on legit cookies.
A web cookie is a text file with small pieces of personal data, like a password and username, which is used to identify your mobile device as you use computer networks. HTTP cookies, for example, are used to recognize your device and enhance your browsing experience.
The server creates data stored in cookies. This data is labeled with a unique ID for you and your device. Anytime cookies are exchanged between your device and the network server, the server reads your identification number and knows what information to serve. To learn about personal information requirements, click here.
What’s a Cookie Used For?
Websites use HTTP cookies to improve your web browsing experiences. Without cookies, you’d have to rebuild your shopping cart after accidentally closing a web page or log in again after leaving a website. So, cookies are a vital part of your web experience.
Here’s how cookies are used on websites:
Manage User Sessions
Cookies often associate web activity with specific users. Session cookies have a unique string that matches a user session with relevant content and data for that user. For example, suppose James has an account on an e-commerce site. He logs into his account from the site’s homepage, and once he logs in, the site’s server generates a session cookie and sends it to his browser. The cookie asks the site to load James’ account data and content so that the homepage reads, “Welcome, James.” James then clicks on a product page showing a pair of sneakers. James’s web browser sends an HTTP request to the site for the sneakers product page; it includes his session cookie with the request. Since the site has this cookie, it identifies the user as James, and he doesn’t have to log in again when a new web page loads.
Cookies help a site “remember” a user’s actions or preferences, allowing the site to personalize the user’s experience. For example, if James logs out of the e-commerce site, his username is stored in a cookie and sent to his browser. His browser sends the cookie to the web server the next time he logs in, prompting him to log in with his username.
While this mainly benefits web users, website developers also benefit from this setup. Often, cookies are stored on your computer locally to save up storage space on a site’s server. As a result, websites can offer you a personalized experience while saving money on storage costs and server maintenance.