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Chapter 29. Internet Security > How Safe Are Cookies?

How Safe Are Cookies?

When you view a page in your Web browser, some servers give you more than you asked for; quietly, without your knowledge, they record information about you and your actions in a hidden file called a cookie. In more formal terms, these data stores are called client-side persistent data, and they offer a simple way for a Web server to keep track of your actions. There are dozens of legitimate uses for cookies: Commercial Web sites use them to keep track of items as you fill your online shopping basket; the New York Times Web site stores your username and password so you can log in automatically; still other sites deliver pages tailored to your interests, based on information you've entered in a Web-based form.

The first time you access a cookie-enabled server, the server creates a new cookie file in the Temporary Internet Files folder. That record contains the server's domain name, an expiration date, some security information, and any information the Webmaster chooses to store about the current page request. When you revisit that page (or access another page on the same site), the server can read and update information in the cookie record. Although information stored in each cookie is in plain-text format, most sites use codes, making it nearly impossible to decipher exactly what's stored there.


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