What is the relationship between Cookies and Cybersecurity?

Privacy is critical in every activity we do on the internet; keeping our personal information out of the hands of strangers is crucial for our protection. Cybersecurity refers to the act of preventing attacks on computers, phones, servers, data, electronic systems, and networks.

We all might have come across a popup or other type of warning concerning the usage of cookies. Some websites even let you choose whether or not to accept cookies entirely or in part. So, there's a fundamental question to be answered: is it safe to allow cookies? Before coming to that question, what exactly is a cookie? Let us see more about how cookies are connected to cyber security below.

What Is a Cookie?

A cookie (sometimes known as an Internet or Web cookie) is the name given to a message from a web server to a web browser. A cookie's primary purpose is to identify users and maybe produce tailored Web pages for them, as well as to save your site login information.

You may be requested to fill out a form with personal information such as your name, email address, and interests when you visit a website that uses cookies. This information is encapsulated in a cookie and transmitted to your Web browser, saving it for further use. Your browser will deliver the cookie to the Web server the next time you visit the same site.

The message is delivered back to the server each time the browser requests a page from the server. A web server has no memory; therefore, the hosted website you're watching stores a browser cookie file on your hard drive to remember who you are and your preferences. As a result of this message exchange, the Web server can use this information to offer you personalized Web pages. As an example, instead of seeing a generic welcome page, you might view a personalized welcome page.

A cookie will typically contain a text string containing information about the browser. A cookie does not need to know your location to function; it simply needs to remember your browser. Some websites use cookies to store additional personal information about you. However, you can only do so if you have provided the Web site with your personal information. Legitimate Websites will encrypt personal data contained in cookies to prevent unwanted access to your cookie folder by a third party.

The types of cookies are −

  • Session cookie − A cookie destroyed when you close your Web browser is a transitory cookie. The session cookie is only kept in temporary memory and is deleted when the browser is closed. Session cookies do not store any data on your device. They usually save information in a session identifier that does not identify the user directly.

  • Persistent cookie − A cookie retained on your hard disc until it expires (persistent cookies have expiration dates) or until you erase it is referred to as a permanent or stored cookie. Persistent cookies are used to capture personally identifiable information about users, such as their browsing habits or preferences for a particular website.

Cookies and Cybercriminals

The cookies themselves are risk-free. On the other hand, cybercriminals can use them to impersonate you online and access your accounts. Cybercriminals can spread malware and fool you into visiting dangerous websites by hiding code in stolen cookies. Cybercriminals can also employ cookies to make websites appear inaccessible to web browsers. When you return to a website, your web browser transmits a cookie to the website's web server, as previously indicated. Instead of sending one cookie to the web server, a cybercriminal can modify this cookie to send hundreds of cookies. When the cookie data exceeds the limit set in the connection setup, the server closes the connection. You will not access the website until you erase your cookies.

Cookies may potentially pose a severe threat to privacy. Marketing cookies have significantly advanced in their ability to follow users over time, from simple tasks like counting ad impressions, views, and clicks to limiting popups and retaining ad sequence. They may now perform user profiling/website preference tracking. With the majority of the top websites adopting large-scale third-party ad serving networks like Google's Adsense/Adwords, this has sparked a lot of debate and worry among online consumer privacy advocates, leading to the development of special legislation to prevent exploitation.

How to be safe with Cookies?

Cookies pose a security concern, but most online activity can avoid or minimize these dangers. Make sure you do the following to protect yourself from the more hazardous features of cookies −

  • When exchanging personal information, always be cautious. Cookies have the potential to communicate this information, so proceed with caution. Also, don't email any personal data if you're using a public computer.

  • In your internet browser, turn off cookie storage. This reduces the amount of data exchanged and may alter your browser's privacy settings.

  • There are browser add-ons that disable third-party software, such as cookie trackers, and keep your surfing data private.

  • Always keep anti-malware software up to date on your computer, as malware can masquerade as harmless cookies or enter advertising networks.

  • If a website requests you to accept cookies, and you're unsure whether it's legitimate, leave it right away.

So, how safe is it to allow cookies?

In a nutshell, yeah, of course, it is possible! Of course, cookies pose several security and privacy problems, but they may also be highly beneficial and are required by most modern websites. As a result, deactivating cookies is not an option.

The emphasis should be on ensuring that cookies are utilized safely.

Updated on: 16-Mar-2022


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