Internet Safety Tutorial

Lesson #7 - Cookies (Not the Chocolate Chip Kind)

Every time you visit a web site, you give that site a little gift.  It's in the form of a cookie, which is a small piece of electronic information almost every web page collects.  These cookies are used to collect data about web surfers, their habits, and stored information about them.

Most of the time this information is kept pretty safe.  For example, all information taken my the web host this site uses is kept private.  I can review the information myself if I wish, but this information is never sold or published.  Unfortunately, not all web sites follow this policy.

What Are Cookies

The best article I have found on what a cookie is and how it is used is at Cookie Central, located here - http://www.cookiecentral.com/cm002.htm.

Basically, a cookie is used to store information on your computer that a web site can use to personalize it's services.  An example is a web-based mail server that offers the ability to save your password.  The password is stored in a cookie file that is on your computer, and every time you access that web site the cookie file is read.

Another example is a site like iWon.com's personalized task bar.  You can relocate any piece of the task bar and the content on the web site to your needs, and every time you return to the site it restores those settings.  Without cookies, the web site would return to it's default state.

The Dark Side of Cookies

Since the announcement that Doubleclick.net had been illegally collecting and selling information taken from cookie files, the true ability of a hack or web server owner to use cookie information had never truly been explored.  As much as I would like to write my feelings about what the dark side of cookies can be, I would prefer to send you to a place that does a much better job.  Please click the following link to CookieCentral.com to get an understanding of what cookies are capable of.

http://www.cookiecentral.com/dsm.htm

What can you do to protect yourself?

The easiest method is to turn off cookies.  (Look in the options area of your web browser.)  Unfortunately, many newer web sites will not allow you to enter without cookies enabled.  A much easier method is a cookie manager.

A cookie manager is a program that examines stored cookie files and deletes them as needed.  It allows you a variety of functions that can allow you to control the cookies that are stored on your computers.  Please check at the following URL for a list of cookie managers - http://www.cookiecentral.com/files.htm

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