- Cookies help websites keep track of important information (such as your login information and what's in your shopping cart) to enhance your experience.
- However, it is possible for cookies to be exploited by attackers to gain unauthorized access to your information.
- Luckily, it is easy to block cookies that you don’t want tracking your information.
While they may sound tasty, when we refer to cookies in browsers, they are a critical part of how we use the internet. Cookies can keep track of items in a user’s shopping cart or keep records of recent visits and login information. While they make the websites easier to use, they also create privacy concerns.
However, you do have the option to block cookies that you don’t want tracking you. It’s important to understand the different types of cookies you interact with to make the best decision on when you should block cookies from unwanted tracking.
What are cookies used for?
Cookies are small files that are stored on your computer when you use the internet. Their purpose is to store information about your online preferences. These files are generally not malicious. They are designed to enhance the user’s experience on the internet by managing several helpful website functions, such as:
- Saving your password(s) to sites frequently visited
- Remembering your browsing history (what sites you've visited within your browser)
- Keeping track of your shopping cart and geolocation information
- Verifying user login details
First-party cookies vs. third-party cookies
There are two main types of cookies that you’ll encounter on websites: first-party cookies and third-party cookies. The key difference between the two is where your information is stored — on the website or by a third party.
- First-party cookies help website administrators collect analytics, manage general settings and enhance the user’s experience.
- Third-party cookies allow online advertisers to choose ads that cater to your interests, based on your online history.
While you can block first-party cookies on the websites you visit, doing so can have a negative impact on your user experience and may also limit your ability to use certain website functions or pages.
Third-party cookies, on the other hand, can be blocked or cleared with less impact on user experience. They are even being blocked by some browsers by default to help protect users’ privacy.
The risks of third-party cookies
Over time, cookies and trackers have greatly evolved with their increasing ability to monitor user behavior. These advancements may present a risk to privacy when it comes to third-party cookies, which can possibly lead to security incidents.
In the case of vulnerable or unsecured websites, this increased level of monitoring allows attackers to gain access to information like login credentials or website history.
While cookies are text files that cannot infect your computer, it is important to understand possible risks they present to best protect your information.
How third-party cookies can be hijacked
Third-party cookies can be hijacked to gain unauthorized access to your information, which can be unnerving.
Attackers can hijack third-party cookies to access your information by using several methods, such as:
- Capturing cookies over insecure channels, which transmits cookies in cleartext.
- Cross-site scripting (XSS), which exploits websites by injecting malicious code into websites, including trusted sites if they are hacked.
- Cross-site request forgery (CSRF), which forces the user to execute unauthorized commands on a website while the user is authenticated.
It’s worth noting that these attacks are uncommon; however, it is important to be aware of them so you can guard your information. Remember, most cookies are designed to give the user a quality experience on websites, not to cause harm.
Blocking third-party cookies and turning on “do not track” requests
It’s easy for you to take control of your online privacy by paying attention to your browser’s privacy settings and blocking cookies as you see fit. There are several resources available to help you block third-party cookies or activate do not track (DNT) requests. Some of the settings that can be adjusted may involve:
- Determining what cookies are on your computer and deleting them.
- Deciding what types of cookies you want to allow, including tailoring those settings for each website.
- Turning on private or incognito browsing mode.
If you’re concerned about maintaining your privacy online, you may want to periodically clear your cookies. However, be aware that any saved information such as log-in credentials will be deleted once they are cleared.
Final word on cookies
At the end of the day, cookies are an integral part of improving users’ online experience and they make navigating the web and websites more convenient. However, periodically checking your cookies is an important way to block unwanted tracking from occurring and should be part of your strong cybersecurity plan!
First Republic Bank can support your internet privacy and security needs
First Republic offers a range of cybersecurity services to proactively safeguard your accounts and improve your security posture (like our complimentary Internet Security Health Check and Cybersecurity Risk Reports). To schedule or learn more about these services, please contact your personal banker or relationship manager or by emailing InformationSecurity@FirstRepublic.com.