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How to Manage Cookies

   Do your favorite websites keep forgetting your name and password? Do you forever have to reset your preferences? Here's why -

   A website leaves "cookies" on your hard drive to "remember you". So if you delete your cookies, websites no longer recognize your computer and they "forget" your preferences and options. There are ways you  can manage these cookies for smoother, more convenient surfing.

                           
Here's How cookies work

   Each website you visit deposits a tiny identifying file (a cookie)
onto your hard drive. Some sites place another cookie each time
you visit them. Websites use these cookies to remember you.

   When you log onto a website, it looks up your cookies, sets up your preferences, perhaps even logs you in. Your chosen options are ready to use as soon as you connect and your web page always looks  the same - unchanged from your last visit.


 
   In addition to the cookie you collect when you enter a site, expect another one whenever you fill out an online form, or register with your email address and password.

   Yes, you give up a little bit of your privacy, but it can be a good trade-off if you log onto a number of websites regularly.

   A data base at the web server saves and keeps track of your preferences. On your own computer, you see only a short text file named something like:

"smith@abcdef[1].txt".

   The content of a cookie file resembles a couple of lines of jumbled numbers and letters. To the data base, this is fascinating stuff!

                                 
How to manage your cookies

   Although we hear warnings to delete all cookies regularly, that's not necessarily the very best advice. When you remove ALL cookies, you lose the good cookies along with the bad ones.   

   We also hear about cookies that track our every move, reporting back to some evil empire. That's true; there are "bad" cookies that learn our habits and tastes, then flood our mailboxes and browser windows with individually targeted advertising (adware).

   You no doubt have been advised to "delete all cookies from your computer once a week," or to "Go to your Cookies folder and delete everything in it!"

   Completely cleaning out your Cookie folder deletes the useful cookies, too. You then lose functionality that you have come to rely on.

                          
How do you delete unwanted cookies
                             while keeping the good ones?

   There is a hard way and an easier way of doing this.

                            
The hard way to manage cookies

   Go to your Cookies folder. Look at the name of each file; is it a website that you use all the time? Then let it be. If the name is unfamiliar, should you delete it? You can never score 100% on this test. You'll still delete some useful cookies. Even worse, using
this method, you will likely repeat the same mistakes on your next purge.

   If you are adept at computers, you can open these files and gain slightly more information from them, especially one with a meaningless name like: "smith@ig[1].txt". Opening this one shows the word "Google" in the encoded string. Since the text reveals no more than that, you should assume nothing more. (Actually, this one sets preferences
within a personalized Google Homepage) Remember, too, that it is not unusual to have several cookies from the same site, numbered [1], [2], etc.

                          
The easier way to manage cookies

   Use one of the free cookie management programs. WinPatrol* is an excellent choice. Its free version is exceptionally good for managing cookies, and it is fun to use.

   The cookie manager lists your cookies alongside check boxes. Recognize a cookie as one to keep? Set a check in its box. When you have gone through all the cookies, you can delete all the unchecked ones with a single click.

   Next time, you will have a base on which to build: all the checked cookies were previously vetted. Now you are only making decisions on the new, unchecked, cookies. Each time, you keep refining your results.

               
How to recover from deleting a good cookie

   Suppose after cleaning up your Cookie folder, one of your favorite websites no longer logs you in automatically; here's your recovery plan:

   Revisit that website, set up your login again. Then close your browser. Open your Cookies folder immediately to look for any cookies bearing the website name  (e.g., smith@abcdef[1].txt) and make a note to keep those. Now test the site; does it log you in again automatically?

   Using a cookie management program, the procedure is the same except that the software opens the Cookie folder for you. Then a simple check mark saves the cookie. See how much easier it is with a cookie management utility?

   Your computer collects "good" cookies that make your internet experience smoother. It also accumulates "bad" cookies that may spy on you.

   You can set your cookie management preferences by visiting the Options Tool on your Internet Explorer browser and Mozilla Firefox browser.

*WinPatrol is available as a free cookie manager download from c|net Downloads.

                                                                                      Richard Rossbauer

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Richard started his "Firewalls and Virus Protection" website and "Security Alert News Reporter" to help everyday Internet users navigate safely through the Cyber Space that has become a 'Cyber Jungle', loaded with ambushes and booby traps. He promotes his "Computer Security Awareness Campaign" thru his website at http://www.firewalls-and-virus-protection.com
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Please visit http://www.Firewalls-and-Virus-Protection.com where many of the issues mentioned in this brief article are addressed in greater detail.  A few minutes browsing there now might save you many hours of agony and grief later.

Thank you.
Richard
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