1. What are cookies?
A cookie is a small file, comprising letters and numbers which can be stored on the computer, mobile unit or other equipment of a user through which the user accesses the Internet.
Cookies are installed through a request by the server of a given web page to the user’s browser (i.e. Internet Explorer, Chrome, Safari, Mozilla) and are completely "passive" (they do not contain any software, viruses or spyware and do not have access to the information of the user hardware).
2. What are cookies used for?
These files mainly help in recognizing the user's unit and presenting content in a relevant way, adapted to the user's preferences. The cookies ensure that the users enjoy a good Internet navigation experience.
3. What cookies do we use?
We use two types of cookies – for the user session and fixed ones. The former ones are temporary files, which remain on the device of the user until the end of his/her user session or until closing the application (web browser). The fixed files remain on the device of the user for the period, specified in the cookies themselves or until manually deleted by the user.
4. Do cookies contain personal data?
On their own, cookies do not require personal information in order to be used and most often, they do not identify Internet users. The personal data, collected during the usage of cookies can only be gathered in order to ease the use of the services by the user. This data is encrypted in such a way that it does not allow unauthorized persons to gain access it.
5. Deleting the cookies
In general, applications for access to web pages allow the storage of cookies by default. These settings may be changed in such a way that the automatic administration of cookies is blocked by the web browser or that the user would be informed each time when cookies are sent to his/her device. Detailed information about the options and management of cookies may be found in the settings of the web browser. Limiting the usage of cookies may affect some of the features of the website.
6. Why are cookies important for the Internet?
Cookies represent the central point in the efficient functioning of the Internet and they help generate a friendly navigation experience, adapted to each user’s preferences and interests. By refusing or deactivating the cookies, some sites may be impossible to use.
The fact that you refuse or you deactivate the cookies does not mean that you will no longer receive online ads – it merely means that the ads will no longer be based on your preferences and interests shown through the navigation behaviour.
Examples of important uses of cookies (that do not require the user’s authentification through an account):
- Content and services adapted to the user’s preferences – products and services categories;
- Offers adapted to the user’s interests – remembering passwords;
- Remembering the child protection filters regarding the content on the Internet (family mode options, safe search functions);
- Limiting the advertising’s frequency – limiting the number of displays of a commercial for a certain user on a website;
- Providing relevant advertising for the user;
- Measuring, optimizing and analytics’ characteristics – like confirming a certain level of traffic on a website, what kind of content is visualized and the way the user lands on a website (for example: searching engines, directly, from other websites etc.). Websites make these users analysis for making the websites better for their users.
7. Security and confidentiality
Cookies are NOT viruses! They are text files. They are not compiled of code segments, therefore they are not executables and they cannot run themselves. Consequently, they cannot duplicate or replicate on other networks in order to run or replicate again. Since they cannot fulfil these functions, they cannot be considered viruses.
However, cookies can still be used for negative purposes. Since they store information regarding the user’s preferences and browsing history, both on a certain site and on the Internet in general, cookies can be used as a form of Spyware. Many anti-spyware products are aware of this fact and they constantly mark cookies to be deleted within the antivirus/anti-spyware delete/scan procedures.
Browsers generally have integrated confidentiality settings that offer different levels of accepting cookies, their validity period and automatic deletion after a user accessed a certain site.
Other security aspects regarding cookies
Because protection of identity is very important and it represents each Internet user’s right, it would be advisable for you to know what possible issues cookies can create. Since, through cookies, information between the browser and the website is continuously exchanged, if an attacker or an unauthorised person intervenes in the transmission of data, the information contained by the cookies can be intercepted. Although it is very rare, it can happen if the browser connects to a server that uses an unencrypted network (for example: an unsecured Wi-Fi network).
Other attacks based on cookies imply that the cookies have the wrong settings on the servers. If a website does not require the browser to use only encrypted channels, the attackers can use this vulnerability to trick the browsers to send information through the unsecured channels. The attackers then use the information in order to have unauthorised access on the website. It is important that you be very careful in choosing the best method of protecting your personal data.
Advice on a safe and responsible navigation based on cookies
Here is some advice, which can ensure safe surfing, but with the help of cookies:
- If cookies do not bother you and you are the only person using that particular computer, you can set long expiration terms for the storage of the browser history and of the access personal data.
- If you share that particular computer, you could consider setting the browser to delete individual browsing data each time you close the browser. This is a means of accessing the sites that plant cookies and to delete any access information at the end of the session.
- Constantly install and update anti-spyware applications.
Many of the spyware detection and prevention applications include site attack detection. Thus, they prevent the browser to access websites that could exploit the browser’s vulnerabilities or that could download dangerous software.
Make sure that your browser is always updated.
Many of the attacks based on cookies are made by exploiting the weak points of the older versions of the browsers.
Cookies are everywhere and they cannot be avoided is you wish to have access to the best and greatest sites – local or international sites. Through a clear understanding of their means of operation and of the benefits they bring, you can take the necessary security measures so that you could confidently navigate the Internet.
Deactivating and refusing cookies can make certain sites inaccessible or difficult to access and use. Furthermore, a refusal of cookies does not imply the fact that you will no longer receive/see online advertising.
All modern browsers offer the possibility to change the cookie settings. These settings are usually in the “options” or in the “preference” menu of your browser. In order to find those settings, you can also use the links below, or use the "Help" menu of your browser for further information.