Commonly referred to as a tracking cookie, they are used by internet websites and publishers to assist people in using websites and their inherent functions. Cookies can actually be a good thing and if you disable their use in your browser, you may find some websites will either not allow you access or may diminish your viewing abilities. Cookies help enhance user experience on many websites.
Cookies are found in your browser directory and have several uses from storing your site preferences to ensuring you get a ‘popup’ only once in so many visits. When you store access or login information on a website you are accepting cookies from that site.
When you visit a website the cookies are created by automatically sending information to your browser that is then converted to a text file. Each time you return to that site your browser will retrieve the previously stored information (the cookie). Cookies are used to authenticate the user. When you need to login to a secure website it will store information that will be unique to you and your computer.
Session cookies store page activity. For example; if you are taking a course online your cookies will be able to indicate to you which pages you have read and which ones you have not.
Cookies are also useful in other areas like ‘shopping carts’ so you can store things you may be interested in and come back and buy them after you have had a chance to look around.
Other cookies are ‘persistent’ and used for sites that allow self-selected modifications (like colour and layout) to the site to match your personal preferences.
Cookies are not a virus. A virus is a piece of code that is executed. Some viruses will download and store on your computer and self-execute at a later date, even multiplying itself so it can spread throughout other networks. A cookie is just a plain text and has no ability to do any ‘executing’ at all. However cookies can be used as ‘Spyware’ and store information of browsing activities, history, and preferences.