The most common use of a cookie is for tracking website activity. This is used to tell which web pages are used the most, where people are clicking on the web page etc. If you have a website and look at your analytics to see things like what pages are most popular, how long user sessions are, from what regions of the world your visitors are, recurring visitors etc. These analytics are only possible because of the cookies that are passed to the web server when a user visits the site. Another common feature of a cookie is allowing people to stay logged in even after closing the webpage.
Cookies are also used during the online shopping process to remember things like payment information and your address so that you don’t have to enter that information every single time you want to buy something. It also enables the browser to remember your shopping cart information so that when you revisit a site all of your items will still be there.
Cookies also allow websites to remember any of your preferences. For example if you choose to have a specific color scheme for a web page or change the default layout of a website. Every time you visit the website, it reads your cookie to determine what preferences you chose and displays that version of the webpage to you.
Essentially anything that requires a website to remember you without the need for you to manually enter your username and password is probably using a cookie, it’s the primary means for a website to track your activity and selections as you browse the site.
How to prevent websites from using cookies
Overall web cookies don’t pose a big security risk. Only the website that created the cookie can read it and it will only contain information that you provide or choices that you made when visiting their website. It’s not possible for a cookie to give a website access to your computer or any of the information stored on your local machine. Also, it’s not possible to deliver a virus using a cookie (or at least I’m not aware of any cases of this).
If you are still worried about having cookies on your machine, fortunately they are very easy to manage. Most browsers give you the option to block all cookies or pick and choose which website you want to enable cookies for. Simply go to the settings or preferences for your browser of choice and select the security or privacy option. If you’re someone that is very conscious of being tracked online you may want to switch over to a browser that is more privacy focused. Some examples of browsers that make privacy a priority are firefox & waterfox, TOR and epic.
Cookies are simply small files that pass information from your web browser to a website on the internet. These files contain information about your previous visits to the website, including pages you visited, settings you choose or information that you provided. Cookies pose very little to no security risk because they are limited to the actions that you take and information you provide during your visit. It doesn’t provide any access to information stored locally on your machine. If you wish to prevent websites from accessing cookies via your browser you can simply change the settings or switch to a browser that disables cookies and online tracking by default.