The relationship between cookies and cybersecurity

RapidVPN/ July 17, 2020/ Blog/

Usually, when you open a website you see a pop up that asks you to accept cookies. And more than usually, you tend to click yes. But do we know what we’re agreeing to?

Cookies have been part of the Internet since the dawn of the world wide web, but they are still a mystery to some users. And most people noticed that there were growing concerns building about them for several years now. In 2011, the European Union passed the “Cookie Law” which states that websites need to seek consent before exposing you to cookies. This Law has heightened concerns about cookies, so one may be aware of what is a cookie and how exactly it can affect your security.

When you visit a modern website, you may notice animations, videos, forms, or polls that take the website beyond simple text. These embellishments are called active content and are often written as simple programs in a programming language like JavaScript. Its functionality can help create an appealing and interactive website, but can also be a prime target for hackers who exploit the nature of running programs to deliver malware to computers. Instead of simply running an animation, it can tell the browser to download a virus or upload personal information to a remote server.

On trusted websites, the user may be able to allow all active content to run normally. However, if a person visits a suspicious website, one may try to disable active content for that particular website or browsing session. This will limit the chance for active content to be used to try to install malware on the computer without the knowledge of the user.

What is a cookie?

The simplest explanation of a cookie is that it is a piece of code that is used to track someone’s online activity. Naturally, this may sound ominous and it can raise concerns about cookies even more. However, most cookies have harmless motives. Their main goal is to remember useful information about specific users and login details to keep someone logged into websites and credit card details in order to auto-complete online forms. These so-called “authentication” cookies are useful allies for online life. But on the other hand “tracking” cookies receive considerable cynicism.

This tracking cookie records and broadcasts the web history of a person, a rough location of where someone is, and the device he/she is using. And there is no Internet user that wants to reveal this to strangers. These details can be shared by third-party software such as Google Analytics. 

There are several kinds of cookies that may be used:

  • Strictly necessary cookies: which are used in order for the website to function and cannot be switched off in our systems. They do not store any personally identifiable information.
  • Analytics cookies: that allow the website to count visits and traffic sources so that they can measure and improve the performance of the site. They help the website to know which pages are the most and least popular.
  • Functional cookies: they enable a website to provide enhanced functionality and personalization.
  • Targeting cookies: they are usually set on the website by the advertising partners. They may be used in order to build a profile of their interests.
  • Social buttons: these enable users to share or bookmark the web pages.

How to keep safe with cookies?

Cookies carry a security risk, but as with most online activities it is quite possible to negate and reduce these risks.

In order to be protected from the more dangerous aspects of cookies, a person should make sure to do the following:

  • Always be careful when sharing personal information. Since cookies can transmit this information, one may tread carefully. More importantly, if using a public computer, one should not send any personal information.
  • There are browser add-ons that are available to block third-party software such as cookie trackers and to ensure that the browsing habits remain private.
  • The storage of cookies should be disabled in the Internet browser. This will reduce the amount of information that is being shared and it can be done in the browser’s privacy settings.
  • One may always have anti-malware software installed on the PC as malware can often disguise itself as harmless cookies and infiltrate advertising networks.
  • If a website offers the question of whether or not to accept cookies and a person is unsure of its legitimacy than one should leave the website immediately.

Source: PrivacyPolicies, CookieLaw, AdPushup