Computer Crime Research Center


Internet security: cookies are ok!

Date: December 30, 2005
By: Dave Porter

The National Security Administration (NSA) is in direct violation of federal privacy laws by serving cookies to visitors of its Web site in order to track their Internet use, according to a privacy activist who discovered the NSA's cookies and what they were doing.

The cookies, which can be used to track visitors' online activities, vanished this week following complaints from privacy activist Richard Purcell, CEO of Corporate Privacy Group and former chief privacy officer at Microsoft.

"It seems that they had no idea of how to use cookies and that's a little scary for what it indicates about their sophisticated understanding of their own Web site," said Purcell. "If this is as good as they are in Web surveillance, then their other surveillance can't be very good."

The NSA had given their cookies an expiration date of 2035, a longer period than normal.

Most Web sites use cookies to track where a visitor goes on their site or to acknowledge them when they come back. But cookies can also be used to spy on the user's visits to other web sites, which was NSA's use. Those types of cookies are known as "persistent cookies," which are saved on the computer's hard drive until reaching an expiration date or until deleted by the user. The NSA used these kinds of cookies, which can track online behavior and report preferences for Web sites.
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