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Blocking Unwanted Cookies with Internet Explorer
So how does this work?
A Web site (that uses Cookies) generates a unique ID number for each visitor and store the ID number on each user's machine using a cookie file. This is way for a site to accurately count visitors, the site can track not only your purchases, but also the pages that you visit, the ads that you click on, information you have given to the site in online forms, etc.

When you visit a web site your browser sends your cookie containing the ID value back to the server. The server then saves a record in the database that contains the time that you downloaded the page and the URL, along with your ID and checks (or resets) the expiration date.

There are certain providers that can actually create cookies that are visible on multiple sites. Many web sites use 3rd party providers to serve ad banners and Cookies on their sites. They can also place small (1x1 pixels - WebBug) GIF files on the site that allow [example] DoubleClick to load cookies on your machine. These tracking servers can then monitor your movements across multiple sites.

Protecting Your Privacy

So what's the big deal? ..... it's just a Cookie, right?
Well that depends on if you understand how things really work. These 3rd party Cookies are generated by companies that get paid to obtain as much information as possible about your viewing habits, preferences, computer settings, etc.

Now you multiply this times the amount of ads and Cookie prompts on the page supplied by 3rd parties ..... This doesn't take into account the other tricks they use such as web bugs - single pixel images, hidden hit counters, page trackers, and other undefined javascripts. Getting the idea? ........ and that's just on one page! Then you find an interesting link to another page and the process starts all over again (ugh!) So the next time someone states that Cookies are safe, be very cautious about the information you are divulging.

Never assume that these characters are playing by the rules either!

A good example of "not playing by the rules" is Adware.Sheldor
"Monitors any new cookies that are created. If the cookies contain certain keywords, advertisements for an adult-content Web site will then be displayed."

Other Examples: Ben Edelman has uncovered adware installers actually creating Cookies for other "Affiliates". Now technically this is not allowed, but most adware installers never play by the rules anyway!
Or McAfee's article on Adclicker-DF which states:
"Adds the following domains to the following key with the default value of 0x00000001, so that they are always allowed." (These are all 3rd party Ad Servers)

Disabling all cookies does not make you anonymous or prevent Web sites from tracking your browsing habits. HTTP requests still include information about where you came from (HTTP Referrer), your IP address, browser version, operating system, and other information.

Editors Note: I have yet to find a site where 3rd party cookies are required to be able to access the desired site. "Tracking Cookies" as those listed in many Antispyware scanners can be effectively stopped by using the below option "Block all Third-party Cookies" and I would also recommend adding those servers to the "Restricted Zone".

A prime example of a site that uses a (ridiculous) huge amount of 3rd party Cookies [screenshot]  There were so many listed there they wouldn't all fit in the Privacy Prompt box.

McAfee description of "Tracking Cookie" - "These cookies may be used to track personal settings, identification data, as well as behavioral and usage details". [Example] Cookie-2o7

Internet Explorer Cookie Location

Persistent cookies have an expiration date. These cookies are stored in the local users account under Users\<username>\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Cookies folder, and the Users\<username>\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Cookies\Low folder for applications running under low privileges.

With Protected Mode Turned on, the browser essentially runs as a low privilege process; as a result of which it can store / read / write cookies in the LOW version of the Cookies folder:

Users\<username>\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Cookies\Low

Win8.1 users:

Users\<username>\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\INetCookies
Users\<username>\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\INetCookies\Low

However if you attempt to view your Cookies thru Internet Explorer, you are only presented with the Cookies that exist in the "\Cookies" folder and not the "\Cookies\Low" location ... go figure? ... also the "\Cookies\Low" folder does not show up unless you enable "Hidden Folders" in Windows Explorer ...

To view Hidden Files

To allow yourself to view all file types, open Windows Explorer > Tools > Folder Options > View tab
or Organize > Folder and search options > View tab
  • Scroll down to the Hidden Files and Folders section
  • Select: "Show hidden files and folders"
  • Uncheck: "Hide file extensions for known file types"
  • Uncheck: " Hide protected operating system files"
  • Ok the Prompt, click Apply, Ok

Editors Note: general users should reverse the above when not in need as this exposes all system files, including several on the Desktop (desktop.ini) which you do not want to mess with ...

Recommended Settings

Open Internet Options | Privacy, click on the Advanced button.

Place a check in "Override automatic cookie handling".
Uncheck "Always allow session cookies"

Set "First Party Cookies" to Block, set "Third Party Cookies" to Block.

Note: you will need to manually Allow certain cookies, you should add: "*.microsoft.com" (no quotes) to the "Always Allow" list to avoid any problems with Windows Update or the many other Microsoft sites, including the MSKB which requires Cookies to be accepted. I would recommend adding any sites that you frequent such as Banking, and any sites that require you to log in, (Social Networking) etc.

You'll find that after a while this only requires a very short list.

Cookie Manager Programs

These programs were useful with previous versions of Internet Explorer, however they are simply no longer needed. This feature is now built into Internet Explorer and consumes no additional resources as these 3rd party programs do.

Anti-Spyware Users

If you are constantly prompted to remove 3rd party "Tracking Cookies" and/or "Data Miners" after scanning your machine, then your "Layered Protection" is not set up properly! It's simple enough to go thru the Antispyware "scan log" and determine which Cookies keep reappearing. Then add these to the "Always Block" option, or simply block all 3rd party Cookies (recommended)

Editors Note: lately some malware infections are adding these 3rd party Cookies, without you even visiting these sites. That's what I mean about "playing by the rules" don't take anything for granted.

The MVPS HOSTS file contains the majority of the "Tracking Cookies" listed in the database of most Anti-Spyware or Antivirus programs.
The object is to prevent these (3rd party) Cookies from loading, not removing them "after the fact".

Test your Cookie Settings - GRC Visitor Cookie Data Display - Web Browser Cookie Forensics

Cookie Viewer

IECookiesView is a small utility that displays the details of all cookies that Internet Explorer stores on your computer. This includes the "\Cookies\Low" folder. The freeware utility is a standalone executable, and installation is not required. (XP/Vista/Win7) [screenshot]

Cookie Viewer [freeware - XP] allows you to view information stored in a Cookie, delete unwanted Cookies on your hard drive. Note: when viewing Cookies stored on your drive if you discover any unwanted Cookies make a note of the server it is coming from (usually 3rd party) add that site to your "Always Block" list in the Internet Options | Privacy tab | Edit button.
Or simply block all 3rd party Cookies (recommended)

Editors NoteWinPatrol also can help you manage your Cookies.

Viewing the Cookies Index.dat

To view the info in the Cookies "index.dat"
Download: RegSeeker 2.1 (freeware - XP/Vista/Win7/8)
Click Histories, select: "IE History Cache Cookies (index.dat)"
You can then delete the Cookie itself or remove any sites listed in the (Cookies) index.dat.

To delete the Index.dat Files

  CCleaner (freeware) will clear the browser cache and the "index.dat"
Note: there are several other freeware utilities that will delete the cache, however I find CCleaner to have the best set of features. Be aware in their latest version they have added the Yahoo Toolbar [ugh!] you can uncheck that option during the install or download the (slim) version without the toolbar.

Cookies in the News

JupiterResearch report finds that over 48 million Internet users are running anti-spyware applications that delete third-party tracking cookies. And nearly 38 million are using aggressive anti-spyware applications that remove nearly 75% of tracking cookies.

And now for a little irony ... while browsing to the following article the viewer gets bombarded with Clikz/RealMedia/ads, if you look at the screenshot ... well do you think they are getting a little carried away?

What about Flash Cookies?

An often overlooked area is the "Local Shared Objects", the flash equivalent of cookies.

Shared objects, or "Flash cookies," can be cleared or turned off via the Flash Player Settings Manager, an application similar to your browser settings where cookies can be disabled. The Settings Manager lets you delete shared objects and set your shared object preferences (such as your desire to be prompted, permissions, and storage limits) for all websites or only specific ones.

You can also see how many Flash Cookies already exist by doing a local search and enter: *.sol

Typical storage areas are:

C:\Documents and Settings\<username>\Application Data\Macromedia\Flash Player (XP)

C:\Users\<username>\AppData\Roaming\Macromedia\Flash Player\macromedia.com\support\flashplayer (Vista)
[and]
C:\Users\<username>\AppData\Roaming\Macromedia\Flash Player\#SharedObjects

C:\Users\<username>\AppData\Roaming\Macromedia\Flash Player\macromedia.com\support\flashplayer\sys (Win7)

You may be surprised by how many (unneeded) sub-folders actually exist there ...

So how do you protect yourself ... you have to go online ... yes online, Adobe does not allow you to control your flash privacy setting from your machine.

Start here and go thru the various tabs and select the privacy settings that suit your needs. I would suggest unchecking the option for “Allow third-party Flash content to store data on your computer”. Please note these setting only remain until the next Adobe flash update and there has been several just this year. Flash player has been targeted by malicious culprits for it's many vulnerabilities ... you can however retain your preferences by setting the "settings.sol" file to Read Only on your hard drive.

The settings.sol file is located in the following location: (Vista/Win7)
\Users\<user name>\AppData\Roaming\Macromedia\Flash Player\macromedia.com\support\flashplayer\sys\
(where "<user name>" is the profile name you are using)

Once located, right-click and select Properties and place a check in the Read only option, click Apply/Ok

Editors Note: Once Adobe is unable to "write" to settings.sol it will create a new file - settings.sxx - When this occurs you will need to set that file to Read Only also.

There are a few drawbacks to the above ... but I've learned to live with them ... some sites will complain when they are not allowed to store their tracking data on your machine. [Example-1] [Example-2]

  Flash Cookie Cleaner

 

Various Troubleshooting Articles

 


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