Internet cookies have become the bane of many web-users and are often given a bad image unnecessarily. A cookie is a string of text that a web server sends to your machine when you visit a website. That string of text is stored on your computer, and then is used to identify your machine when you return to that website. Cookies are how a website can remember the items that you viewed the last time you were on the site, auto-fill your user name or prompt you to complete an order. Cookies are generally not harmful and do not transmit viruses.

Many people, however, become nervous at the thought of a website storing identifiable information on their computer. They use their firewall and virus protection software to block any potential cookies. While this does not affect functionality of a website, many sites now require cookies to be turned on before the site will load. The use of cookies allows for tracking and identifying a user on a particular website. The information would not be accessible, for instance, to another website. The coding is specific to a company and doesn’t work with any other site.

A growing threat to internet activity is what is classified as a malicious cookie. Malicious, or tracking, cookies are designed to keep track of internet usage: how long a user surfs the internet, what sites they visit and surfing habits. By tracking this information, companies can build a profile that is used for advertising and marketing purposes. These malicious cookies are sometimes called spyware or adware cookies, and can be blocked by spyware programs.

Periodically reviewing cookies that are stored on the computer will allow a user to monitor the cookies that are useful and the ones that are malicious. A simple removal process can dispose of bad cookies, while allowing the beneficial ones to remain.