Cookies are probably the most misunderstood feature in the computer world. They are often depicted as menacing tools of surveillance. Many even show up in the results of spyware scans. But the truth is that cookies are not as powerful as they seem.
Cookies do not give direct access to your computer. Unlike viruses and spyware , cookies are not programs. They are inert text files that can't do much of anything. Some advertisers do abuse them. But, by and large, cookies do much more good than evil.
Cookies allow Web sites to be interactive. As text files, cookies provide the means for Web pages within the same site to pass notes to each other. Otherwise, any selections you make on one page are forgotten as soon as you click to another page.
Cookies are useful for shopping sites. A cookie can store a list of items you've selected to buy as you browse different product pages. Then the checkout page can read that list from the cookie. Another use for cookies is Web site customization. Cookies can be used to store your preferences for whenever you revisit a particular site.
Cookies usually do not carry information identifying a particular computer. You could transfer your cookies to another computer and use them just as well. They identify your computer to Web sites only as much as your car keys identify you to your car.
Most browsers allow cookies to be read by only the Web site to which they belong. This makes it difficult for any one site to track your Web surfing.
However, sometimes an advertiser will issue its own cookies. The cookies can be used to recognize your computer at other sites associated with that advertiser. Known as third-party cookies, they can be an invasion of privacy.
Internet Explorer has privacy settings to address third-party cookies. Open Internet Explorer and click Tools>>Internet Options. Select the Privacy tab. Click the Advanced button.
Click to mark the checkbox labeled "Override automatic cookie handling." You'll see options for first-party and third-party cookies. In the third-party cookie options, select Block. Then click OK.
As mentioned, cookies do not give access to your computer. Regardless, a computer without security programs is vulnerable online. Always use a firewall, an antivirus program and anti- spyware software.
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