Cookies as Spyware Essay

This paper addresses Cookies as Spyware. The option chosen was to analyze the issues associated with cookies being used as spyware. Are cookies pieces of malicious, benign, or innocent software? The next paragraphs of this paper will discuss the various uses of cookies. And, then, the paper will conclude with my opinion about cookies based upon my research findings. Since web browsing uses a stateless connection, cookies are used to maintain the state of a browsing session. Cookies are small data files that are produced by a web server that are stored on your computer.

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Cookies allow a personalized web browsing experience because of the identifying information that they store within them (such as login information, passwords, web pages visited, and/or items placed in a shopping cart). There are different types of cookies that are created for specific purposes. They include session, persistent, first-party, and third-party cookies. Session cookies are used to store information related to a particular visit during one session.

Persistent cookies are used to store information permanently on your hard drive about your interactions and/or preferences with a certain web site.

First-party cookies are used by the specific site that created them while their website is being visited, whereas third-party cookies are not created by the website that is being visited. Third-party cookies are created by another website besides the website being visited such as a banner advertisement on the web page that is being visited. (“Encyclopedia,”) While most cookies appear to be used solely for the purpose of enhancing the user’s web browsing experience, cookies can be used for other purposes including adware or spyware if they contain active code.

Adware is used to automatically download or display advertisements on a person’s computer. Spyware is technology used to gather information about a person or organization without their consent or knowledge and relay that information back to advertisers or other interested parties. (“Information security magazine,” 2008) Technology has evolved to the point where cookies can or have been abused, so they are associated with some security risks.

The risks associated with cookies are hijacking (session hijacking), inaccurate identification (due to multiple user accounts or different browsers being used on a single PC), poisoning or stealing (cookie manipulation), and lack of expiration or artificially long expiration periods (allowing cookies to remain when they are no longer needed can allow the cookies to be stolen or attacked). (“Are all cookies,” 2010) All of these security risks can be used to gain access to or steal personal information from a user or their computer.

In conclusion, from the research articles reviewed, it is my opinion that cookies are both beneficial and potentially harmful if used improperly. Cookies can be used safely to enjoy their beneficial purposes for web browsing by following some simple rules. Routinely find and delete unnecessary cookies by navigating to the path on your hard drive where your cookies are stored (C:Documents and Settings[username]Cookies). There really isn’t much danger in deleting these files since new cookies are automatically downloaded the next time you visit the site anyway.

Also, check to make sure that your browser settings are only allowing first-party cookies (restrict third-party cookies). Another important thing is to install antivirus software (such as Symantec Endpoint Protection, Sophos, McAfee, or any other reputable vendor) and keep your antivirus software updated properly. Perform regular scans on your hard drive and all attached peripherals to prevent infections. Keep operating system patches updated to prevent anyone from hacking your system because of a known vulnerability. Web browsing would be much less personalized if we completely denied ourselves the privileges associated with cookies.

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