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When good cookies go bad
Wikipedia's article on cookies




Wikipedia's article on data corruption




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Thomas Computer Services Web Site
If you bank or shop or trade securities online, you and your bank or vendor or brokerage firm (hereinafter referred to as the “second party”) depend on little files placed on your computer, called “browser cookies.”  They are placed there by the second party, when you register for the particular online business.  The second party web site uses the cookie to keep track of your logging in and whatever else you do over the course of the months and years that you do business there.  Cookies contain only information that you provide.  Each time that you use Internet Explorer or Safari to log in at the web site to do your business, for your security, your browser sends the cookie back to the second party web site.  You and your account are then authenticated to the second party, and you are recognized as a registered customer and that it is safe to send you pages of sensitive information.  This process is essential to secure, modern, online business.

But cookies and all computer files stored on hard drives are subject to data corruption.  Errors may creep into a file that make it unreadable.  This can be caused by repeated access of the same storage area on the hard drive.  Read the Wikipedia article about data corruption for more on this.  Now, a corrupted word processor file or photo may be unrecognizable as such and partially or completely unusable, but a corrupted cookie may cause the browser to hang instead of letting you log in to do your business.  This can be a source of woe when it comes to online banking as you can be cut off from computer access to your funds.  There's a fix for this: it's called “resetting the browser,” and it erases ALL of your cookies, personal settings, add-ons and customizations, and returns the browser to a pristine, brand-new condition.  Because it erases all of that stuff, before you begin the steps to reset the browser, please make sure you have a record of ALL your login information, for ALL the web sites where you do business.  A little notebook kept in a safe or some other safe place is good for this.  Do not be tempted to store this information in a file on the computer, especially a laptop.

Windows 7 users can reset Internet Explorer from within the browser, so:

1. Start Internet Explorer.

2. On the Tools menu, click Internet Options.

3. On the Advanced tab, click Reset under Reset Internet Explorer settings.

4. When you come to the Reset Internet Explorer Settings dialog box, it's VERY IMPORTANT that you read all of it carefully so you understand all that you are erasing and what it means to have a pristine version of your browser, and then click the checkbox next to Delete personal settings so that cookies are included in the erasing.

5. Click the Reset button at the bottom of the dialog.  Internet Explorer takes a minute or so to do the job and shows checks next to each task it completes.

6. When it's finished, click Close in the Reset Internet Explorer Settings dialog box.

When you log back into your bank and other second party web sites where you do business, you will have to enter your account user name and password for each one.

Windows XP users should:

1. Exit all programs INCLUDING Internet Explorer if it is running.

2. Click Start and then click Run.

3. In the box that appears, type

inetcpl.cpl

and then press Enter.  The Internet Options dialog box appears.  From here, Windows XP users should follow from Step 3 under Windows 7 users, above.

Windows Vista users should:

1. Exit all programs INCLUDING Internet Explorer if it is running

2. Click Start and then in the Start Search box, type

inetcpl.cpl

and then press Enter.  The Internet Options dialog box appears.  From here, Windows Vista users should follow from Step 3 under Windows 7 users, above.

Macintosh users can also do this job from within the browser, Safari.

1. Start Safari

2. Click the Safari menu in the menubar

3. Click Reset Safari...

4. The Reset Safari dialog gives you better control over the process than Internet Explorer does, and you can choose which personalization items to remove.  Cookies are not mentioned in the dialog, but are part of the last item, called Remove all website data.  If you only want to clear out the cookies, you can just leave this last item checked and proceed from there.

5. Safari completes the task and returns you to your browsing session, but you should quit and restart Safari before trying to log back into your second party web site.

Resetting the browser periodically is a good idea as it improves your privacy by clearing out traces of what you've been doing.  If browsing the Internet is getting slower or if the browser tends to hang or stop working, or if Internet Explorer “encounters a problem and needs to close,” or if you get other errors, it's time to reset it.
May 7, 2012

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