What are cookies?

Cookies are text files retained on computers by browsers containing various information in regards to a specific website visit. Another way to think of this is that a cookie is a message given to a web browser from a web server that is then sent back to the web server whenever the browser requests a page from it. Cookies are used to identify users, store shopping cart information, and prepare customized web pages that utilize user information. The cookie may be used to remember a username, for example, so that the name will auto-fill on the user’s next visit. Cookies may be disabled, or cookie options customized, due to privacy concerns and the risk of some cookies being used as spyware. It should be noted that because cookies are not executable files, they cannot be considered viruses as they do not have the ability to replicate.

Session cookies last only for as long as a user is on a website; they expire after the browser window is closed or the session times out. Persistent cookies (also known as tracking cookies) remain active for a period of time on a user’s machine and are used whenever the website is accessed. Secure cookies are used when accessing a website via HTTPS and are encrypted for greater safety.