Browser cookies are small text files that help identify an individual device and streamline personalized content for web services. Once a user accesses a website, the server the website is hosted on will create a unique package of browser cookies, and the device will store this package to send back to the website upon repeated visits. The data stored in these cookies can help users log in easily, load web pages faster, and have content tailored to their activity history served to them. While this is useful for everyday browsing, hackers find this data valuable because the personalized data can be used to gather information on a business or steal data that can be sold or leveraged in an attack.
What do Browser Cookies do?
Browser cookies save login credentials, store information for personalized content, save site settings, and allow data gathering for marketers. Many cookie functions focus on providing a streamlined experience for the user by letting settings, such as themes or site options, be delivered to the hosting server automatically. This lets the webpage load faster and reduce wait times for content delivery. Cookies also collect user activity data, such as search terms, geographic location, and browsing habits to tailor advertisements to user preferences. Recently, advertising agencies have leveraged cookies to collect a wide range of data on site visitors and track their internet habits to use in marketing campaigns.
Cookies and Cybersecurity
Browser cookies can present a threat to a business when targeted by malicious actors for the purpose of stealing the data they contain. Any information stored on a user’s device that a website uses to personalize their visit or provide targeted advertising can be stolen by hackers to be used in attacks. Any personally identifiable information (PII) harvested from cookies can be sold on the dark web, and, in some cases, passwords can be retrieved from cookies and used to compromise business accounts. Even though cookies can be leveraged for account theft and DDoS attacks, they generally do not pose a high cybersecurity risk to businesses alone, and users can keep their data safe by following web browsing best practices.
Keeping Cookies Safe
Secure web browsing begins with keeping browsers up to date. Patches should be installed promptly, and users should avoid visiting new sites or installing new add-ons when their browser has not been updated. Any security services used to monitor and protect browser data, such as endpoint protections, must also be updated quickly for more secure web activity. A business can also have their IT department or IT consultant identify reliable third-party addons that help keep a device’s cookies more secure. Many websites request a user to state their cookie preferences when they access the site, and users should be trained on how to select options that avoid unnecessary cookies.
Overall, browser cookies can play a pivotal role in some cyberattacks, but businesses can lower their vulnerability to these attacks by providing cybersecurity training and using trusted addons. Many websites allow users to disable advertising or tracking cookies as soon as they visit a site, so businesses should emphasize cookie best practices in their cybersecurity training and highlight the importance of patching applications. Since browser cookies can be used as a steppingstone in larger cyberattacks, it is recommended that SMBs work with a reliable IT consultant like Robinett Consulting to assess their network risks and provide the guidance needed to keep the business running securely!
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