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Windows

Windows 7 : Configuring Internet Explorer Security - Enhancing Your Browsing Privacy (part 3) - Enhancing Online Privacy by Managing Cookies

12/10/2010 9:13:53 AM

Enhancing Online Privacy by Managing Cookies

A cookie is a small text file that’s stored on your computer. Websites use them to “remember” information about your session at that site: shopping cart data, page customizations, usernames, passwords, and so on.

No other site can access your cookies, so they’re generally safe and private under most—but definitely not all—circumstances. To understand why cookies can sometimes compromise your privacy, you have to understand the different cookie types that exist:

  • Temporary cookie— This type of cookie lives just as long as you have Internet Explorer running. Internet Explorer deletes all temporary cookies when you shut down the program.

  • Persistent cookie— This type of cookie remains on your hard disk through multiple Internet Explorer sessions. The cookie’s duration depends on how it’s set up, but it can be anything from a few seconds to a few years.

  • First-party cookie— This is a cookie set by the website you’re viewing.

  • Third-party cookie— This is a cookie set by a site other than the one you’re viewing. Advertisers that have placed an ad on the site you’re viewing create and store most third-party cookies.

These cookie types can compromise your privacy in two ways:

  • A site might store personally identifiable information—your name, email address, home address, phone number, and so on—in a persistent first- or third-party cookie and then use that information in some way (such as filling in a form) without your consent.

  • A site might store information about you in a persistent third-party cookie and then use that cookie to track your online movements and activities. The advertiser can do this because it might have (for example) an ad on dozens or hundreds of websites, and that ad is the mechanism that enables the site to set and read their cookies. Such sites are supposed to come up with privacy policies stating that they won’t engage in surreptitious monitoring of users, they won’t sell user data, and so on.

To help you handle these scenarios, Internet Explorer implements a privacy feature that gives you extra control over whether sites can store cookies on your machine. To check out this feature, select Internet Explorer’s Tools, Internet Options command, and then display the Privacy tab, shown in Figure 4. You set your cookie privacy level by using the slider in the Settings group.

Figure 4. In the Internet Options dialog box, use the Privacy tab to manage your cookies.


You set your cookie privacy level by using the slider in the Settings group. First, let’s look at the two extreme settings:

  • Accept All Cookies— This setting (at the bottom of the slider) tells Internet Explorer to accept all requests to set and read cookies.

  • Block All Cookies— This setting (at the top of the slider) tells Internet Explorer to reject all requests to set and read cookies.

Caution

Blocking all cookies might sound like the easiest way to maximize your online privacy. However, many sites rely on cookies to operate properly, so if you block all cookies you might find that your web surfing isn’t as convenient or as smooth as it used to be.


In between are four settings that offer more detailed control. Table 1 shows you how each setting affects the three types of privacy issues.

Table 1. Cookie Settings and Their Effect on Surfing Privacy
 Third-Party Cookies with No Compact Information Privacy PolicyThird-Party Cookies Using Personally Identifiable Information Without the Type of ConsentFirst-Party Cookies Using Personally Identifiable Information Without the Type of Consent
LowRestrictedRestricted (implicit)OK
MediumBlockedBlocked (implicit)Restricted (implicit)
Medium HighBlockedBlocked (explicit)Blocked (implicit)
HighBlockedBlocked (explicit)Blocked (explicit)

Here are some notes about the terminology in this table:

  • Restricted means that Internet Explorer doesn’t allow the site to set a persistent cookie, just a temporary one.

  • A compact privacy policy is a shortened form of a privacy policy that can be sent along with the cookie and that can be read by the browser.

  • Implicit consent means that one or more pages leading up to the cookie warned you that your personally identifiable information would be used and you agreed that it was okay.

  • Explicit consent means that the page that reads the cookie warned you that your personally identifiable information would be used and you agreed that it was okay.

Note

If you decide to change the privacy setting, you should first delete all your cookies because the new setting won’t apply to any cookies already on your computer. See “Deleting Your Browser History,” earlier in this chapter.


That’s fine on a broad level, but you can fine-tune your cookie management by preventing specific sites from adding cookies to your computer. For example, you can prevent Google from tracking your search activity by preventing it from adding cookies to your PC. You might also want to block ad sites such as doubleclick.net.

Here are the steps to follow in Internet Explorer to block a site from adding cookies:

1.
Select Tools, Internet Options.

2.
Display the Privacy tab.

3.
Click Sites.

4.
Use the Address of Website text box to type the site domain.

5.
Click Block.

6.
Repeat steps 4 and 5 to add all the sites you want blocked.

7.
Click OK in the open dialog boxes.

Other -----------------
- Windows 7 : Managing Windows Firewall (part 2)
- Windows 7 : Managing Windows Firewall (part 1)
- Windows 7 : Checking Your Computer’s Security Settings (part 2)
- Windows 7 : Checking Your Computer’s Security Settings (part 1)
- Securing Windows 7 : Thwarting Snoops and Crackers (part 2) - Locking Your Computer Manually, Automatically
- Securing Windows 7 : Thwarting Snoops and Crackers (part 1) - First, Some Basic Precautions
- Windows 7 : Working with the Command-Line Tools (part 3) - Working with System Management Tools
- Windows 7 : Working with the Command-Line Tools (part 2) - Working with File and Folder Management Tools
- Windows 7 : Working with the Command-Line Tools (part 1) - Working with Disk Management Tools
- SOA with .NET and Windows Azure : System.Transactions
- Windows 7 : Understanding Batch File Basics (part 2) - Using Batch File Parameters
- Windows 7 : Understanding Batch File Basics (part 1) - Creating Batch Files
- Discovering the Microsoft Azure Platform
- SOA with .NET and Windows Azure : Microsoft Messaging Queue (MSMQ)
- Windows 7 : Working at the Command Line (part 3)
- Windows 7 : Working at the Command Line (part 2)
- Windows 7 : Working at the Command Line (part 1)
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