Last Updated on March 16, 2023
By: Jeff Stetz
Cookies (the edible kind) are a cherished holiday tradition that few of us would want to give up completely! But it’s a good idea to be selective…
Same with the simple text files, aka “cookies,” that websites store on our desktops and mobile devices for basic browsing purposes like session management, user personalization and tracking. While most cookies are harmless or even improve our web experience, others can leave a bad taste—in the form of privacy violations, credential theft or even identity theft.
Cookies can store login data, your email address, browsing history and other private info, which hackers can exploit and monetize or even hijack to gain direct access to your browsing sessions.
Read on for some tips on how to safely enjoy browser cookies during the busy online shopping season:
- Keep your cookies fresh. Browser cookies help legitimate websites offer you a more personalized, convenient experience. But leaving piles of “stale” cookies from long-ago browsing sessions lying around on your computing device is a potential threat to your privacy. To remove this risk, you should regularly clear your browsing history for each browser you use. Experts recommend clearing your cookies at least monthly if not weekly. The process is a little different for different browsers, but usually takes just a few clicks.
- Don’t leave a trail of “cookie crumbs.” What’s up with advertisers somehow “knowing” our shopping history in ways that are sometimes a little unnerving? This is made possible by third-party cookies, which are linked to ads on sites we visit. Even if we don’t click on any ads, we can end up “consuming” third-party cookies, which advertisers or analytics companies then use to track our browsing history on any sites that host their ads. To avoid being “stalked,” use your browser Preferences tab to explicitly disable third-party cookies. Then clear your browsing history (see above) to remove unwanted cookies.
- Find out who’s naughty, not nice. While legitimate third-party cookies aren’t intended to compromise user security, some have a malicious purpose: to sneakily build a profile of you and your interests that can be sold without your consent to analytics companies or acquired by government entities. Besides the methods above, your anti-malware software may be able to identify malicious adware cookies during its scans so you can delete them. In relation to this, be sure to keep your anti-malware software up to date with the latest patches.
- Destroy their brains. In a class all their own, are the malicious third-party cookies known as zombie cookies (aka flash cookies or permacookies). These are difficult to identify and remove and may even “reappear” after deletion. Fortunately, they’re also pretty rare. If you don’t have Adobe Flash Player installed, you don’t have to worry about zombie cookies. Otherwise, use the Adobe Website Storage Settings Manager to uncheck “allow third-party content.”
- Just say no. Until a few years ago, browser cookies weren’t on most peoples’ radar. Now (thanks to privacy legislation, which is a good thing!) we’re asked to “accept cookies” ad nauseum. What to do when that banner pops up? Pause and think. Please read the wording carefully, as it’s often misleading. If you’re comfortable with the site and want an optimal experience, it’s fine to accept their cookies. But if the site looks “off” or your security software is red-flagging it, don’t accept any cookies and consider blocking that site. Also, remember to configure your browser preferences (see above) to automatically minimize or eliminate cookies you don’t want for all the sites you visit.
While you may be tempted to gorge yourself on sweets this Holiday Season, it’s often a good idea to pace yourself in the interest of good health. Similarly, it may also be in your best interest to monitor your desktop and mobile web cookie intake, so your device does not end up with “digital indigestion.”
Check out this podcast for more information on cookies and data privacy standards as they relate to your business: EP#38 – Dyann Mills – How Data Privacy Standards Affect Your Business – Pivot Point Security