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HOW TO

What is a cookie?
By: Developer Shed
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    2003-08-09

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    What is a Cookie?

    Cookies are tasty snack treats that compliment that cup of coffee in the morning, in the real world that is. In the online world they are bits of data or information placed on your hard drive by Web sites that you visit. Although not all Web sites use cookies, the benefits of cookies are many.

    Online ordering systems use cookies to store items in a shopping basket, or to store information that customizes your personal start page.

    Cookies store your identity, preferences, passwords, userIDs so that you do not have constantly re-enter them when you return to the site. Cookies can also be used to track visitors to a site with such stats as when and how often by containing a list of pages you visited while at the site. Similar to going into a store and having your movements recorded by a hidden camera to be used for later analysis. A violation of privacy or mere convenience? You be the judge.

    How Do Cookies Work?

    Each time a browser requests a URL of a page from a Web server, the server communicates with the browser and the browser stores the appropriate information on your hard drive. The next time you visit that particular site the server searches your browser's cache for cookies that contain information you may have previously provided to that site. The browser then returns a copy of the cookie to the server. Keep in mind that a browser already gives up information about you without cookies. This information includes your operating system, your browser type, and even your IP address. Some can even give out your email address (only if you have entered your email address in your browser's options). See below to find out if your browser is giving your out.

    Are There Ways to Control Cookies?

    Most people are unaware of cookies because browsers' are configured to accept cookies by default. You may have heard rumors of dangerous cookies, don't worry though, cookies cannot be used to "steal" information about you or your computer system. It is impossible for one site to read a cookie from another site. They can only be used to store information that you have provided at some point. If you are uncomfortable with cookies, you have several options.

    Internet Explorer:

    If you use Internet Explorer 3.0 or higher you can set your browser to warn you before accepting cookies or not accept them at all. Click on "Internet Options|Advanced" - then click the appropriate option's box.

    Netscape Navigator:

    If you use Netscape Navigator 3.0 or higher users can only set your browser to warn you before accepting cookies. Netscape Navigator 4.0 users can also disable cookies. Click on "Preference|Advanced" - then go down to "Cookies" and select from the options.

    I must warn you though, the drawback to setting either browser to warn you before accepting cookies may severely interfere with you browsing experience. You will get many servers that will offer the same cookie repeatedly even after you refuse to accept the first one, quickly becoming quite a nuisance. On the other hand, disabling cookies altogether will also interfere with your browsing as you will not be able to access some sites.

    Cookie Cutting Software

    There are lots of commercial software and freeware available on the market to help you in controlling cookies and prying eyes. Go to ZDnet's Software Library and type "cookie" in the search box to get a list of cookie software available. I found "Luckman's Anonymous Cookie" to be pretty good at handling cookies.

    Is Your Browser Giving Away Your Email Address?

    To determine if your browser is giving up your email address, Click here!  - Wait about 15 seconds for the web site to flash you a message that your web browser is NOT sending the info or it will flash your email address to show you that it IS indeed giving out your email address. If it is giving your email address out, you can correct this problem by checking your browser options.

    Good luck and happy surfing!

    While we at CyberSmartNow use our best efforts in researching, collecting, and preparing the information published herein, CyberSmartNow does not assume, and hereby disclaims, any liability for any loss or damage caused by or alleged to be caused, directly or indirectly by the information contained herein.

    DISCLAIMER: The content provided in this article is not warranted or guaranteed by Developer Shed, Inc. The content provided is intended for entertainment and/or educational purposes in order to introduce to the reader key ideas, concepts, and/or product reviews. As such it is incumbent upon the reader to employ real-world tactics for security and implementation of best practices. We are not liable for any negative consequences that may result from implementing any information covered in our articles or tutorials. If this is a hardware review, it is not recommended to open and/or modify your hardware.

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