Getting Rid of Unwanted Cookies

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Computer terminology is a strange thing. One popular computing term many of us are familiar with is “cookie.” The word cookie is derived from the Dutch word koekje or koekie, and refers to a small cake. But when computing is involved, the term “cookie” has a completely different meaning. A cookie is a file placed onto your computer’s hard drive by a Web site you visit, enabling whoever is on the other end to monitor your use of the site. Popular misconceptions and rumors about what cookies can and cannot do have frightened some users.

Cookies are used to identify a Web user, though they may be used to track a user’s browsing habits as well. While not a major security issue, the use of cookies does affect privacy, as they can monitor a user’s surfing habits. While most cookies are “session cookies,” which last only until you quit your browser and are then deleted, another type of cookie, known as a “persistent cookie” is far more bothersome.

Persistent cookies use an extended expiration date and are stored on your disk until that date. A persistent cookie can be used to track your browsing habits by identifying you whenever you return to a site. Information about where you come from and what Web pages you visit already exists in a Web server’s log files and also could be used to track your browsing habits. Cookies just make the job of data collection easier.

While cookies are not dangerous in and of themselves, if a hacker were somehow to gain access to your computer, he or she might be able to gather personal information about you through these files. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure—and one of the easiest steps you can take is to alter the security settings of your Web browser to either limit or block cookies. For example, to ensure that other sites are not collecting personal information about you without your knowledge or consent, choose to only allow cookies for the Web site you are visiting and block or limit cookies from third parties.

For cookie management, you need not spend a dime: Numerous freeware products abound. A favorite is CookieWall by AnalogX. This easy-to-configure Windows utility allows you to easily decide which cookies can stay on your system and which should be deleted. CookieWall can be set up a few different ways. Cookies can be deleted as soon as they arrive, or you can choose to be notified when new ones are placed on your hard drive. Another option is to have CoookieWall store them temporarily for viewing at a later date. It is important to note that CookieWall is currently only compatible with Microsoft Internet Explorer and similar derivatives. To download a copy, visit

Another freeware product is Cookie Monster by Alberto Martinez Perez, a student of computer engineering at the University of Oviedo in Spain. This handy tool, which can be downloaded at, can help you manage and delete your browser cookies. It supports several different Web browsers, such as Internet Explorer, Netscape and Opera, as well as the increasingly popular Firefox.

Once loaded, Cookie Monster will quickly list all the cookies found on your hard drive and allow you to view the content of selected cookies. Armed with this information, you can then use the program to either delete the cookies or preserve them in case you are unsure whether the cookie is necessary to log on to certain Web sites.

Always keep in mind that everyone who uses the Internet is responsible for his or her own personal security and privacy. If you are using a public computer, such as those in an Internet café or a public library, you should make sure that cookies are disabled to prevent other people from accessing or using your personal information.

For additional information on how to do this, visit

Douglas Schweitzer, A+, Network+, i-Net+, CIW, is an Internet security specialist and the author of “Securing the Network From Malicious Code” and “Incident Response: Computer Forensics Toolkit.” He can be reached at


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