Session Hijacking

What is Session Hijacking

Cookies are part of your browsing experience that makes several things possible. Gone are the days when websites would display a single webpage to every visitor. The web today is personalized; it is tailored according to the likes of the visitor. With so many visitors daily, cookies provide the identification required to deliver a tailored experience to a visitor. But very bad things can happen if someone steals your cookie. Someone could get into your bank account and steal your money, or get into your social media account and gain access to your social life. Hence, learning about Session Hijacking can help you be proactive against such threats.

How Do Internet Cookies Work?

Named after the baked delicacy, internet cookies store small data for web communication. It contains important information about you – IP address and device type – for the webserver to remember you on the next visit.

Ecommerce websites use cookies so that you don’t have to log in every time you visit the store or load a new page. Because of how HTTP (Hyper-Text Transfer Protocol) works, cookies deliver consistency across webpages without requiring the user to authenticate every time to view certain pages like a personal dashboard.

Cookies are stored in the web browser that you use and fetched automatically as your revisit a website. You may have seen some websites requiring you to accept Cookie Policy, especially if you view a website from the European Union. The GDPR policy dictates that users must be aware of such data collection, hence, the user agreement.

And the same cookies can be used to create what’s called a “session.”

What is a Session?

The website you visit creates a session for you when you log in, which is carried for succeeding actions by a Session ID. HTTP is a stateless protocol, due to which cookies are used to maintain persistence in the user experience. It would be arduous if you jumped to a different page, and the website asked you to log back in again. Even worse, entering a two-factor authentication code while logging into bank accounts.

Session ID (or ‘token’) is stored in a cookie that is stored in the web browser. A session is created when you log in and terminated when you log out or if there is inactivity for some time. Aside from the password, session IDs serve as the authenticity that the webserver is communicating to the correct user. It would be disastrous if your bank account opened up for a different user accessing the online banking system.

It is exactly what happens in Session Hijacking. Also known as Cookie Hijacking, an attacker tries to steal the session cookie stored in your web browser. That’s the summary of Session Hijacking, keeping reading to learn the multiple ways attackers achieve it.

Session Hijacking Explained – How Does it Happen?

Session Hijacking can be carried out in various ways. Because web communication today is encrypted – mostly – an attacker needs to get creative.

The easiest way to steal the session cookie is by a phishing attempt. An attacker will send you a malicious link to the user with a JavaScript code. This attack is known as Cross-site Scripting. The code will automatically execute when you open the web page, steal the session cookie from the web browser, and send it to the attacker. Phishing attempts may seem harmless, but you could fall victim to it with clever social engineering techniques.

Sniffing is another way to obtain the cookie but requires an unencrypted data transmission. Most of the web today uses HTTPS for secure communication between the user and the webserver. But it is also important that the webserver has encryption for all pages, else sniffing an unencrypted transmission would reveal the session ID.

Public Wi-Fi is generally unsecure with weak security. It is trivial for someone with adequate knowledge and equipment that can be found online easily to set up a clone of the Wi-Fi access point. The trick works when you connect to the access point, thus enabling the attacker to act as a Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) for accessing the actual Wi-Fi access point and the internet.

How Encryptions Prevents MITM Attacks

Thanks to HTTPS, such attacks are impossible to carry out, but the attacker can divert you to malicious pages like the JavaScript page we talked about above.

It may surprise you but gaining unauthorized access to a valid session may require nothing more than just guesswork. Instead of stealing the code, the attack can predict a valid and active session. It is possible to guess because the algorithm used to create session tokens for users can be predicted. The length of the session ID can decrease the risk of that prediction. It may seem trivial if you account for a handful of users logging in and the session IDs being generated, but imagine an e-commerce store that deals with thousands of customers daily. There is a greater chance of landing on a valid session ID.

If there’s malware on your device, then the infected system can be vulnerable to these attacks. Stealing session cookies will be easier if the targeted user is running an infected device.

VPN Provides Additional Security

A VPN tunnels and encrypts all types of traffic leaving your device, not just HTTP/HTTPS. iProVPN uses AES 256-bit encryption for all communication between you and the VPN server. What it means for you is protection against sniffing and other types of Man-in-the-Middle attacks, even if you were connected to a hostile Wi-Fi access point.

Conclusion

Encryption alone is not enough, as many of the session hijacking attempts occur through phishing. You must remain informed about emerging cyber threats and avoid clicking on suspicious links. Always double the sender of an email and never click on unfamiliar links on the web. Additionally, an anti-virus will provide defense against malware such as trojans and keyloggers that can steal your information.


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