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A cookie is a small information file that a website puts on your computer in order to remember something about you later. Typically, a cookie keeps track of your preferences when using a particular site. More importantly, by using cookies, an online store like Amazon can keep track of what items you have placed in your shopping cart as you move through the site.
Cookies are not malware; they are simply small text files. However, they can be used for malicious purposes, the most common of which is spyware. If a website can read your cookies, it can compile a lot of information about you through your web browsing habits. You can delete the cookies on your computer, or you can disable them. WikiHow has an excellent explanation of How To Clear Your Browser's Cookies; however, keep in mind that if you disable cookies, some websites will not function properly.
If you'd like, you can view the cookies on your hard drive. The location of the cookies however, generally depends on your browser. Internet Explorer stores each cookie as a separate file under a Windows subdirectory, whereas Opera stores them in a single cookies.dat file.
In Internet Explorer, you can delete cookies by clicking on "Tools," scrolling down to "Internet Options," and clicking "Delete Cookies." Any website that requires cookies will simply replace them.
An Internet site will generally use one of the two following types of cookies:
Session cookies are stored on you hard drive only during the time that you are at a particular site. They are automatically deleted when you terminate your session. A website will use session cookies to assist with navigation by remembering what pages a user has already visited, or whether or not a user has logged-in to the site. Secure Florida uses session cookies.
Persistent cookies store your personal preferences on your computer for an extended period of time. Most browsers will allow you to configure how long you would like to keep persistent cookies. If a malicious hacker were to gain access to your computer, they may be able to gather personal information about you from stored persistent cookies.
It may be a good idea to consider adjusting your privacy and security settings to block or limit cookies in your web browser. In Internet Explorer, you can get to both of these settings by clicking on "Tools," and selecting "Internet Options." The "Privacy" and "Security" tabs appear at the top of the options menu.
For more information on cookies, visit this cookie summary, prepared by Microsoft.