How to protect yourself from internet 'cookie' hackers

Search for anything online -- and the next thing you know that item is following you on the internet in the form of an ad at just about every website you visit.

"If you search for a product on Google that product may show up on your Facebook feed. That's all done through "cookies" and cookies is kind of a normal part of traveling through the internet," says Derek Ellington, a certified Fraud Examiner.

Online cookies are data files that help websites track your activity and remember the last time you visited a page or searched an item to provide a more personalized experience.

Ellington says cookies won't typically have your personal information but they can carry preferences and locations.

So what happens if cookies fall into the wrong hands?

"Cookie scraping is basically the idea of that I'm going to go into your computer and I'm going to get those little pieces of information that log you into websites and I'm going to take them and I'm going to copy them to my computer and I'm going to hope that the website that you go to will basically think that I'm you," says Ellington.

Data sent through public WiFis can easily be intercepted by cyber criminals.

And few people truly understand the risks associated by connecting to these networks.

Experts say you're more susceptible to getting hacked while using the free WiFi at your favorite coffee house or retailer because you don't who set it up or who else is logging on.

The best thing to do, they say, is not connect to the WiFi.

Clovis PD Digital Forensic Specialist Destin Watkins has advice on ways users can protect themselves from falling victim to cyber criminals.

By far the most effective trick for staying safe on a public network is to install a Virtual Private Network or VPN -- a service that routes your internet activity through a trusted server.

"If I want to go from my computer to ESPN I would route all my traffic through a VPN. It would go from my computer up to a VPN and over to the website. The website would actually not see me," Watkins says.

And if you're looking to maximize your chances of keeping your information safe while surfing the web experts say there are a few more simple steps to take:
Be careful about emails and attachments you click on

Always use two-step authentication whenever it's available.

And use private or incognito browsing when possible -- this prevents you from collecting any cookies as you move through cyberspace.

Security features like a VPN might sound intimidating to some but with a little research you'll find for a just a few dollars a month the technology might be worth it to keep you secure online.
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