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What are internet cookies and how to they affect you?

A cookie is a small snippet of information that your browser stores on your local hard disc in reply to a request from a remote server. This is generally so that the server can store mundane information about your preferences or browsing habits. This may be so that you can receive advertising banners tailored to your individual needs or so that a web site may make recommendations to you based on your choices from a previous visit to the site.

So What's wrong with them?

When they were first devised, cookies were a simple method with which to make it easier for users to access their favourite web sites without having to navigate through a lot of options or preferences each time they revisited the site.

For instance, a book store site may ask you for a username, what books you like and perhaps your age or something. Instead of entering this information each time you re-visit the site, it will be stored within a small file on your hard disc and your browser will then automatically give this information to the web site next time you visit.

Unfortunately, like most things on the internet, various unscrupulous companies and/or web site designers have subverted their purpose over time and cookies can now be exploited to actually track your movements around the world wide web. In theory they could build up a detailed profile of your spending habits, interests and personal lifestyle. Some people (myself included) brand this use as an infringement of personal freedom and independence.

Are they all bad? Can they spread viruses?

A cookie will only store information that you have entered about yourself. If you are ever unsure, then either reject the cookie (if your browser can be configured to ask for acceptance) or don't enter any information about yourself. However, some cookies work by profiling your route around a web site so can actually work in a semi-automatic way (unless you permanently configure them off) so can sometimes store simple information about you without you even knowing.

As far as I know, no cookie has yet been able to affect a computer system in a virus like fashion. This is because cookies are stored on your hard disc as text only files and are not executable. Always beware of files which appear as executables and do not attempt to open them. This is only really relevant to Windows and Mac users because RISC OS and Linux both offer users far greater protection from internet based virus attacks.

There are security loopholes in Microsoft Outlook and Explorer which will allow Active-X applets to access your underlying filing system. However, as long as cookies remain text only they cannot do any harm to your computer.

The controversy arises mainly because of the personal information they could store about you. There are currently a number of proposals in the pipeline as to limits on the length and/or the level of control users have over cookie management. For more information visit the Cookie Central web site.

Controlling Cookies with Fresco

Firstly, for the privacy conscious, you may like to know how to turn off cookies when using Ant Fresco. Cookies are controlled by a setting within the Fresco "config" file.

This is stored within Fresco itself so you'll need to open it by double-clicking on !Fresco whilst holding the SHIFT key down. Then double-click on "config" in order to load the configuration file into your text editor program.

You now need to search for the line that starts

cookie.enable:

N.B. If your copy of !Fresco.config does NOT include this line then you may need to save Fresco's choices in order to update it's config file. You can do this simply by loading Fresco, pressing MENU over it's icon and opening the choices window. Click on Save and then quit Fresco and repeat the steps above. If you still don't have the relevant line then you may need to update to a newer version of Fresco before you can use cookies.

Having found this line, it should be followed either by Yes or No and should be self-explanatory. Simply change the setting to Yes or No to control the cookie control.

If you don't wish to manually edit Fresco's config file, my AntUtils application contains a facility to toggle this option on or off for you.

Problems with Fresco

On the whole, Fresco handles cookies quite well. However, with the development of more ambitious web sites and with the manipulation of the internet by unscrupulous companies such as Microsoft, a number of cookies you might encounter are incompatible with the standard cookie protocols. This means that invariably you may encounter an error message saying that "You don't have cookies enabled", even though you do. Some sites you can get around (see below) and some the only real solution is to email their webmaster and report the problem. Hopefully if enough people hassle them, they will change or upgrade their sites accordingly.

However, I've found a way of accessing some 'dodgy' sites that fail to transmit information correctly to Fresco. By interrogating the site in question, I've compiled a list of suitable cookie information which will fool the remote site into believing you correctly have cookies enabled. By copying the relevant cookie entry into your cookies file (called 'cookies' and stored within !Fresco) you can access these sites.

Please note that you should only edit Fresco's cookie file when Fresco is NOT loaded. This is because Fresco will save it's cookie file when it quits and will overwrite any changes you make to it.

False Cookie information for selected 'problem' sites

OK, so here is the list of false cookies which should allow you to access some sites that incorrectly think you have cookies turned off, even if you don't.

Associates.Amazon.com Click here to download a text file you can drop into Fresco's cookie file.

ubid-main	086-2554264-6698968	.amazon.com:-1	/	s	7ffeae7f	382a9570
session-id-time 942919541 .amazon.com:-1 / s 3833cf75 382a9570
session-id 086-0290808-3084708 .amazon.com:-1 / s 3833cf75 382a9570

Farnborough-Aircraft.com Click here to download a text file you can drop into Fresco's cookie file.

SITESERVER	GUID=f12b8e573f610bfec5b59f839bc00986	.farnborough-aircraft.com:-1	/	s	7269f268	382bff07

Tesco.net Click here to download a text file you can drop into Fresco's cookie file.

SITESERVER	GUID=05ce0ed17bb39a86c1929b527bf783c7	.tesco.net:-1	/	s	7269f268	381d79a9

Links to other sites with Cookie Information

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Last edit: 10th Apr 2016 at 1:55pm
(528 days ago)

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