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Saturday, June 15, 2024

Everything you need to know about cookies in browsers

Almost every site greets you with a warning that it uses cookies. It is important for each user to know what these files store and how they are used. We tell you what cookies are, how they are used by scammers, how to clean them, and much more.

What is a cookie – in simple words

Cookies are small text files generated by websites. They record information about the visit to the site. These files are stored on your computer.

Cookies are needed to identify the user. When you return to the site, it recognizes you and automatically adjusts. Registration forms will be filled out, language and regional settings will be set. If you chose products on the site, then new ones will be offered based on your preferences.

Here’s how it works. After you enter the address of the desired page in the browser, the browser looks for a cookie on the device of this site. If this file is found, it is sent to the resource server. The site gets it and starts using it. If the browser does not find a cookie, the site considers you a new visitor and asks for permission to create files on the device.

It is not known why these cookies were called “cookies” in English.

There is a theory that this is a reference to the fairy tale of the Brothers Grimm “Hansel and Gretel”. In it, children, in order to find their way home, marked the way with crumbs. This is similar to tracking a user’s online activities using cookies.

According to another version, it all started in the late seventies with Unix programmers. A small packet of data that one program transmits to another, they denoted the phrase magic cookie. The term was coined by analogy with fortune cookies – Chinese fortune cookies, in each of which you can find a magical prediction.

In 1994, programmer Lou Montulli created cookies while developing the Netscape Navigator browser. He was the first to use a text file to store information about online purchases on a user’s computer. This allowed us to create a virtual shopping cart. And he borrowed the name for this file from his colleagues.

Cookies, cache, and autocomplete are different technologies. We need to distinguish between them.

A cache is a copy of heavy site data that the browser stores. It can be pictures, videos, music. When you visit the site again, the browser will not request this data from the Internet, but will take them from the cache. The site will load faster.

AutoComplete is a feature of the browser. It remembers data when you fill out forms on the site – for example, specify a name, phone number and mail. And, if you need to fill out similar forms on another site, it offers ready-made options.

What information is stored in a cookie

The information that is stored in cookies can be almost anything. It depends on what the site you are visiting needs. Each site has its own set of cookies, but most of the information is collected and stored by online stores. Let’s pay attention to the basic data:

  • Individual settings. It can be language, city, page scale, currency. Cookies save you from having to reconfigure the site each time you log in.
  • Authorization data. If the site provides a personal account, then cookies store the login and password.
  • Personal data. Sites can store phone numbers, passport data, addresses, payment data. All so that you do not enter the same thing every time you buy or order services.
  • Data about the device from which you accessed the site. Site owners need this information to optimize the operation of their resources. The session time on the site, the device model, the browser version are saved.
  • Transitions and clicks. When you visit the site, you are assigned an identifier that is stored in cookies. On it you can track your movement around the site or clicks on banners with advertising. This information is needed to make sites more convenient.

Where cookies are stored

Cookies are stored on your computer’s hard drive in your browser’s folder. You can open them using Notepad and read them, but you won’t be able to set a cookie in the folder. Therefore, the exact path to them is not necessary to know.

Cookies can be managed directly in the browser – for example, to clear them or disable them. We will tell you how to find these settings in the most popular browsers.

In google chrome: “Settings” → “Privacy and security” → “Cookies and other site data”.

In Yandex Browser: “Settings” → “Sites” → “Advanced Site Settings” → “Cookies”.

In the Opera browser: “Settings” → “Privacy and security” → “Cookies and other site data”.

In the Mozilla Firefox browser: “Settings” → “Privacy and Security” → “Cookies and site data”.

In the Microsoft Edge browser: “Settings” → “Cookies and site permissions”.

In Apple Safari: Safari, → Settings, → Cookies and Website Data.

Types of cookies

Temporary. Such cookies are used only at the time of use of the site. For example, they can contain records of order forms or data about the pages viewed. These files are deleted when you close the browser window.

Permanent. These cookies are stored for an extended period. The deadline is set by the site owner, but usually it is a year. Such files store passwords, logins, phone numbers, addresses, payment details. They can also be used by advertising services to get information about your behavior on the Web and to find out your preferences.

External. These cookies do not belong to the site, but to third parties. Most often these are advertising companies whose banners are placed on the resource. They record your conversions and study your preferences to understand which ads to show you. Also, to collect data, such cookies are used by analytics services such as Yandex Metrica and Google Analytics.

Why cookies are dangerous

Some believe that cookies can carry viruses and affect the amount of advertising. It’s not that.

Cookies do not carry viruses. For a virus to work, it must be in a program that can start the process. Cookies are recorded in static TXT format. For the same reason, cookies alone cannot steal your data.

Also, cookies do not affect the amount of advertising shown to you. Its relevance depends on them, and site owners are engaged in distribution.

However, attackers can intercept cookies and take advantage of the information stored in them. There are several ways to steal:

  • Hacking session. If you do not use an encrypted HTTPS connection, hackers can intercept traffic and extract private data.
  • Cookie spoofing. Cookies must be stored and sent back to the server unchanged. However, attackers can modify the cookie before sending it.
  • Cross-site cookies. In this case, hackers attack the browser itself, and instead of cookies of one site, cookies of another are stored. So scammers get access to the identifier of your session on the site.
  • Cookie theft. Special programs can steal your login and password cookies. This will allow attackers to log into your account.

The consequences of cookie theft can be:

  • leakage of passport data, information about bank cards and other personal information;
  • fraud using your personal data;
  • aggressive advertising of products that you were previously interested in;
  • Gaining access to your computer to install malware.
  • spam on social networks and e-mail.

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How to protect yourself

Basically, the theft of cookies occurs through the fault of the site owners or the users themselves. You can’t influence site owners, but you can protect yourself.

The main recommendation is not to visit dubious sites. These are all sites that can turn out to be fraudulent: very similar to the sites of banks or social networks, without HTTPS, with a huge number of advertising banners.

Download programs and plugins only from official websites or in the application stores of your browser. When you visit the company’s website, check the domain in the address bar.

Life hack: if you really need to go to a site that you do not trust, turn on the incognito mode and do not leave personal data on the site. This will automatically delete all cookies after the end of the session.

Also keep an eye on the security of the connection. Keep your browser up to date, use an antivirus on your computer, and don’t enter personal information if you’re using free Wi-Fi.

Legal regulation: how sites should work with cookies

Roskomnadzor refers cookies to personal data. They also fall under this definition under No. 152-FZ “On Personal Data”, but the law does not mention them directly.

Roskomnadzor recommends working with cookies in the same way as with any other personal data. Site owners should:

  • post a privacy policy – a document that describes what information the site collects, how it processes and stores it, whether it transfers it to someone or not;
  • notify users about the collection of information – for now, a simple notification in the form of a pop-up window is enough.

Perhaps in the future, the regulation of the industry will change, and new rules will be introduced for cookies. You can read more about the legal regulation of cookies in our article.

When to clear cookies

Cookies are cleared for a variety of reasons. For example, if:

  • The computer is used by several people. Clearing the cookie will prevent someone else from using your login and password.
  • Your computer’s hard drive is clogged. Deleting cookies will free up additional space and it will increase the performance of your device.
  • The website is working with errors. Deleting a cookie can return it to working order.
  • Your browser slows down. Clearing the cookie will speed up its operation.
  • You’re tired of advertising. Clearing and disabling cookies willgive you more privacy on the Web.

Clear and disable cookies

You can disable cookies in your browser settings – above we have analyzed where they are located. But disabling cookies altogether can make browsing the internet less convenient. You will have to configure the site for yourself each time or enter data into the forms manually.

In most cases, cleaning the files is sufficient. To do this, you can use special programs. The most popular are CCleaner and Privazer. You can also clear cookies in your browser. If you use more than one browser, you should remember that each of them stores its own cookies. Therefore, you need to configure them separately.

We will learn how to clear cookies in different browsers.

Google Chrome: “Set up and manage Google Chrome” (three dots) → “History” → “Clear history”. Select a time range and check the box next to “Cookies and other site data.” Click Delete Data.Yandex Browser: Yandex Browser settings (three horizontal bars) → “History” → “Clear History”. Select a time range and check the box next to “Cookies and other data of sites and modules”. Click Clear.Google Chrome: “Set up and manage Google Chrome” (three dots) → “History” → “Clear history”. Select a time range and check the box next to “Cookies and other site data.” Click Delete Data.

Opera: In the sidebar, click on the “History” (clock) tab → “Clear browsing history”. Select a time range and check the box next to “Cookies and other site data.” Click Delete Data.

Mozilla Firefox: Open the application menu (three horizontal bars) → “History” → “Delete History”. Select a time range and check the box next to Cookies. Click OK.

Microsoft Edge: Settings & More (three dots) → Settings, → Privacy, Search, and Services, → Delete Web Browsing Data, → Select Items to Delete. Select a time range and check the box next to “Cookies and other site data.” Click Delete Now.

Apple Safari: Safari → Settings, → Privacy, → Manage Website Data, → Delete All.

In all browsers, the changes do not take effect immediately. After deleting the cookie, you need to restart your browser.

The main thing about cookies in six paragraphs

  • Cookies are small text files that a website stores on the user’s computer using a browser. These files record information about the visit to the site.
  • Cookies are stored on your computer’s hard drive. The browser interface allows you to manage these files, so you don’t have to know the exact path to them.
  • Cookies are temporary, permanent and third-party. Temporary ones are deleted after closing the browser, permanent ones are usually stored for a year, and third-party ones belong not to the site, but to someone else.
  • Cookies do not carry viruses and do not affect the number of advertisements. However, attackers can intercept cookies and take advantage of the information stored in them.
  • To protect yourself, you need to follow a number of rules. For example, do not visit suspicious sites, use only official software, update the browser in a timely manner.
  • You need to clear the cookie if the site does not work correctly or the hard disk is full. This can be done using special software or in the browser settings.


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