If you’re like me, you’re probably now recovering from an abundance of cookies during the Christmas period.

There is another kind of cookie though and it can also appear more around Christmas time – web cookies.    Not sure what I’m talking about?   Well, have you ever searched for the perfect Christmas gift, only for it to start appearing in adverts all over the web?   That’s a web cookie..

First of all some background in to web cookies and how they work.   It’s rumoured that the name “cookie” comes from the old fairy tale about Hansel and Gretal.   The children left a trail of cookie crumbs behind them in the forest to mark their trail.  A web cookie is a text file placed on your computer by a website.   It’s a safe way for a website to save a piece of information about your visit to your computer.   It can then refer to this at a later date if you come back to the site.   This is useful for a variety of reasons – for example, when you go back to a site you’ve visited before, it’ll remember who you are along with preferences such as language, location etc.  However as with with Hansel and Gretal it can also be used to leave a trail.

Now there are two main types of cookie, “Session Cookie” and “Persistent Cookie”.   A session cookie only lives as long as you keep the web browser open.   As soon as you close the browser it’s gone forever.    These are useful when you have to “log in” to a website.   Once you are logged in, a session cookie is used to save you from having to log in to every page on the website.   Once you close the browser it’s deleted, so if you revisit the site you’ll need to log in again.

The other type of cooke is a persistent one.   These have an expiration date (set by the website) and remain on your computer after the browser has been closed.

So cookies sound quite useful don’t they (just like real life cookies!).   However they can have drawbacks.   Say you’re shopping for a new BBQ and decide to search online.   You start by searching for “Bargain BBQs”!  This brings you to an online store which has the model you’ve been dreaming of but you’re not quite sure you want to go ahead yet, so time to do a little more research.   A few days later you go back to Google and search for this specific model “Griller 2000”.   This takes you back to the same store, but now the price has increased!!  What’s going on?   Although this practice is now uncommon, it’s been used in the past through the use of Cookies.   The website saved the fact that you were interested in the “Griller 2000” and when you came back to the site, saw this in the cookie and decided to increase the price on the assumption you’re interested in buying one!   Disgusted, you decide to console yourself by checking the weather, only the weather page now has an advert for the exact same model of BBQ!   It’s a conspiracy!   Well, not quite.  The advert on the site is served up by Google, who yes, put a cookie on your computer indicating that you’re interested in this BBQ.   Now any site you visit that uses Google advertising (a lot) will potentially show you this advert!

This is especially annoying when searching for gifts for others, as these gifts could start appearing on other web pages.   Dangerous if you share the computer with whoever the gift is inteded for!

Fear not though – you have control of the cookies!    All web browsers have a way for you delete specific or all cookies from your computer.   Be careful when doing this though as sometimes they’re useful and you’ll miss them!    Cookies can be found (and deleted) in the settings of all browsers, Chrome, Internet Explorer etc.   Give me shout if you want to see how to manage them as each browser works a little differently.

Now before I finish, I just want to quickly return to a topic I’ve talked about previously – Virus Scams.    I’ve been inundated with calls recently from customers who’ve paid hundreds of dollars to scammers after thinking that they had a virus!   If you’re surfing the web and all of a sudden, a message pops up – telling you that you have a virus and you need to call a number immediately – THIS IS A SCAM.    The last thing an Anti-Virus company wants is for you to call them!   Any legitimate AV program will just remove the virus and carry on regardless.   The less intrusive it is, the better it’s doing it’s job.

These pop-ups are often impossible to close, and sometimes have sound effects such as alarms, or a voice telling you to call the number.

The fix – it’s simple, just restart your computer!   All you’re looking at is a web page with a pop up window.  You don’t have a virus, and you’re not in danger.    Restarting the computer will close the browser (and the pop-up) and return you to normal.

There are some steps you can take to avoid this – one of which is Web Filtering.   There are some great (and free!) services out there that will watch out for these scams and block them.   Again, give me a shout if you’d like this setup and I’ll gladly help.    Finally, if you do get one of these warnings, and are worried about it, call me, not the number on the screen!

Until next time, stay safe and enjoy the cookies!