Session Hijacking Attack – Techniques & Prevention Guide 2023

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Session Hijacking

In April 2023, a very severe attack was carried out on all the open Wi-Fi connections of the world. The attack was named as Session Hijacking. In this attack, the person had gained access to all the Wi-Fi connections for all the countries.

This had then allowed him to connect his computer to a billion different devices which are connected to the internet. This blog is all about describing the session hijacking attack, what are the different techniques used by the attacker and how can we prevent these attacks.

A session hijacking attack is a type of attack that takes advantage of vulnerabilities in web applications, services and protocols to redirect a client’s session to another server.

Session hijacking attacks are related to cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerabilities, which allow attackers to execute arbitrary script code on a vulnerable website.

Session hijacking attacks enable an attacker to steal any session data (such as login state) maintained by the server respectively.

A session hijacking is a situation where an attacker hijacks your active web session. You browse online, you mind your own business. An attacker is planning to hijack your browsing session. Why? You may be wondering.

Apart from stealing your sensitive information for evil purposes, attackers could cause more damage and make you do their bidding. If you are desperate, you may have to give in to their demands.

The consequences of session hijacking should prompt you to protect your network against such intrusion.

In this post, you will learn more about session hijacking attack or cookie stealing and how to prevent session hijacking?

What is Session Hijacking?

A session hijacking is a technique used by hackers to take control of a system, without the knowledge of the user – for example, when you’re checking your credit card balance, paying your bills, or doing shopping at an online store. It is also known as cookie hacking, it is mostly performed on your browser sessions and web applications.

Each time you connect to a website, a session is created. This session generates a session ID for you and stores your information for use across multiple pages. This explains why you can browse multiple pages of a website without having to enter your login information on each page.

In cyberspace, a typical session begins when a user logs on to a web server to perform an activity and ends when the user logs off. The moment you log into a website, the browser sets a temporary session cookie as a reminder that you have been authenticated and are now logged in. When you logout of the site, the web server invalidates session cookies, so you will need to re-enter your login information to access the site again.

Session hijacking example

A URL containing a session ID might look like:

www.mywebsite.com/view/99D5953G6027693

On an HTML page, a session ID may be stored as a hidden field:

<input type=”hidden” name=”sessionID” value=”19D5Y3B”>

Attackers can hijack your browsing session while you are still logged into a site and gain unauthorized access to your sensitive data.

session hijacking example

 

There is no limit to where session hijacking and cookie stealing occur. It can happen when you make a transaction on your banking app, shop online or interact with your loved ones, exposing your sensitive information to data-hungry cybercriminals.

How Does Session Hijacking Work?

For attackers to successfully perform session hijacking, they need to know the session ID of their victims. How do they get this information?

What Is Session Hijacking?

Let’s say you logged into a website with a registered account. It can be a credit card website, a social network, an online store or a web service. When you are logged in, the website sets a temporary session cookie in your browser. This session cookie stores the information you used to log in and allows the website to verify your information and keep you logged in while it tracks your activity during the session.

Attackers can gain access to your session ID by stealing the session cookie or tricking you into clicking on a malicious link that hides a predicted session ID.

Once the attacker gets your session ID with you still logged in, they can hijack your session. They could use the stolen session ID on their browser, impersonating you, to perform any action you are authorized to do.

Session hijacking attacks can be used by hackers who want to steal sensitive data from your computers or Internet-connected devices. They could also be used by hackers trying to break into your computer to steal any files stored on it.

Session hijacking is different from other types of attacks because it doesn’t require any technical knowledge or skills on the part of the attacker. Instead, all they need is access to a user’s browser session ID, which is generated when they log in or sign up for an account on a website or web application.

Once they have this information, attackers can use it along with another piece of information (such as your username) to gain access to your account.

Session Hijacking Techniques

Attackers can be evil, but you have to give them credit for being competent. They have many tricks up their sleeve to hijack or steal user session credentials. The most commonly used primary techniques for hijacking sessions are:

Cross-Site Scripting XSS

HTTP-Only Session Hijacking Through XSS

The cross-site scripting type of attack is the most common way to hijack a user’s session. It exploits the security weakness of the target web server.

A HTTP only cookie is a browser cookie that is stored in a specific way. The HTTP Only tag is added to typical cookies to prevent them from being displayed via client-side scripts. This increases the security of the cookie because anything but the server can access it.

In this case, an attacker sends a script injection to the web pages you have visited in the form of a malicious link. When you click on the link, it redirects your personal information to the attacker. This can happen when a web application or website does not have proper data cleansing. There is a way to protect WordPress site from XSS attack.

Brute-force Attack

A brute force attack involves the attacker correctly guessing your password. They enter multiple passwords until they land on the correct one. A brute force attack, in this case, works well on websites that use session keys that can be easily guessed. You can stop brute force attacks on WordPress site.

brute force attack - session hijacking method

Session Side-jacking

In session side-jacking, the attacker must have the target user’s network traffic. It can access it through a man-in-the-middle attack or when the user connects with unsecured Wi-Fi.

Session Side-jacking

Cybercriminals use what is called packet sniffing to observe a user’s traffic looking for sessions to steal. If the website uses the old SSL protocol, attackers will be able to steal session keys and continue to hijack user sessions and impersonate them on the website.

Session fixation attack

A session fixation attack requires an attacker to find a flaw in the way your web application handles its session identifier.

session fixation attack

An attacker can trick you into using a session ID that he knows beforehand. When you use it, they make their own request with the same session id as if they were the real owners of the session ID.

Malware Injection

An attacker can attack you directly by installing malware on your device that will help them perform automated session sniffing. Some of this malware has been programmed to perform malicious activities without your knowledge.When you click on a malicious link sent to you, it will analyze your traffic and steal your session cookies.

Also ReadMalware Redirecting Websites To Outlook Pages & Fake Phishing Sites

How to Fix Push Notification Malware in a WordPress Website?

WordPress Malware Removal Checklist – 2023 Security Guide

Man-in-the-browser – MITB attack

A man-in-the-browser (MitB) attack is an online attack in which the attacker is the website’s user. It is the most common form of cybercrime, with an estimated 20% of all web users affected by phishing attacks every year.

Man-in-the-browser attacks have become more common because they are relatively easy to execute and do not require any special skills or advanced technical knowledge. They also do not require access to a victim’s computer, so they can be launched from anywhere in the world.

A man-in-the-browser attack is a type of cyberattack in which a malicious actor inserts code into a web browser in order to hijack the user’s session and perform unauthorized actions. This type of attack is particularly difficult to detect and defend against because it uses legitimate browser code to carry out its nefarious activities.

One of the most well-known man-in-the-browser attacks was carried out against the Bank of America in 2010. In this attack, malicious code was injected into the bank’s online banking system via a malicious browser extension. This allowed the attackers to hijack customer sessions and transfer funds out of their accounts without detection.

Fortunately, there are steps that organizations can take to defend against man-in-the-browser attacks. These include implementing browser security controls, such as browser isolation, and using advanced authentication methods, such as two-factor authentication.

WordPress Cookie Flaw Lets Hackers Hijack Your Account

WordPress is a popular blogging platform that powers over 20% of the world’s blogs, but it’s not the only one. The problem with WordPress is that its users’ authentication cookies can be hijacked by hackers looking to steal information.

A Staff Technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) noticed that WordPress blogs send user authentication cookies in plain text, rather than encrypting it. So a script-kiddie looking to steal information can easily hijack them.

Hijacking Authentication Cookies – Cookie Stealing

When you log into your WordPress account, WordPress.com servers set a web cookie called “wordpress_logged_in” into your browser. This authentication cookie is sent over clear HTTP—in an insecure manner—and a Staff Technologist recommends that WordPress ‘should set the “secure” flag on sensitive cookies so that they’re never sent in plaintext.’

If you’re using WordPress and have cookies set on your account, you may want to take note of a Staff Technologist’s blog post on this vulnerability. In a nutshell, when users log into their accounts on WordPress.com, they’re sending their authentication cookies over clear HTTP in an insecure manner.

We recommend that WordPress ‘should set the “secure” flag on sensitive cookies so that they’re never sent in plaintext.

Recently, similar Cookies reuse vulnerability was discovered by ‘The Hacker News’ team on the eBay website, which could allow an attacker to hijack eBay accounts without knowing the victims’ actual credentials.

FireSheep, a networking sniffing tool, can grab cookies from the same Wi-Fi Network as your WordPress blog. Cookies can then be added to any other web browser to gain unauthorized access to the victim’s WordPress account and in this way, a WordPress.com account could be easily compromised.

session hijacking

This flaw doesn’t pose much of a threat because if you own a self-hosted WordPress website with full HTTPS support, then your blog is not vulnerable to cookie reuse flaws like those on eBay.

The good news is that if your self-hosted WordPress website has full HTTPS support, then this type of attack against you won’t work.

Session Hijacking, Cookie-Stealing WordPress Malware Spotted

Researchers have identified a strain of cookie-stealing malware that appears to have been injected into a legitimate JavaScript file, disguised as a WordPress core domain. The site is designed to look like a legitimate WordPress domain so that it doesn’t appear out of place in the code.

To steal a user’s cookies, an attacker can impersonate that user by visiting a site that appears to be a legitimate website. The site that URL is mimicking, code.wordpressapi[.]com, isn’t even a legitimate site—but in this case, that doesn’t matter; the fact that it includes the word “WordPress” is enough to make it look like it belongs.

By stealing a user’s cookies, through what’s essentially a session hijacking attack, an attacker can pretend to be that user and perform any actions the user has permission to perform. At least until those permissions are revoked; something that’s done after a period of inactivity for many types of online accounts, including WordPress.

It’s important to check your site for any signs of cookie hijacking. Cookies are small text files that allow a website to keep track of what you do when you visit it. A cookie can hold information about your computer, like your IP address or the page you’re visiting on that server. 

The site that URL is mimicking, code.wordpressapi[.]com, isn’t even a legitimate site, the researcher points out. But in this case, that doesn’t matter; the fact that it includes the word “WordPress” is enough to make it look like it belongs.

Senior Malware Researcher notices that, WHOIS data is always ‘privacy protected,’ the IP (45.32.137.126) points to vultr[.]com network (not a typical choice for hackers especially with the Windows IIS/8.5 server).

Stealing cookies can let hackers take control over your account by pretending to be you and perform any actions you have permission to perform.

As always, webmasters should keep an eye on their site’s security. By stealing a user’s cookies, through what’s essentially a session hijacking attack, an attacker can pretend to be that user and perform any actions the user has permission to perform. 

At least until those permissions are revoked; something that’s done after a period of inactivity for many types of online accounts, including WordPress.

How to Prevent Session Hijacking?

Successful session hijacking leads to sensitive data and financial loss, among other harmful effects. Website owners and users have a role to play in ensuring that their session cookies are not hacked.

In order to prevent session hijacking, regardless of whether it’s happening via MITM or not, organizations can use encryption technologies such as HTTPS and SSL certificates. Using these methods will protect users’ data and make it more difficult for third parties to gain access to their information.

Cultivating good cybersecurity practices goes a long way to protecting your sessions. Here’s how.

Preventative Measures for Website Owners

If you are a website owner, the following tips will help protect your website against session hijacking.

Enable HTTPS on your website

An insecure website is an invitation for attackers to perform session hijacking. As a website owner, secure your web application using updated TLS encryption to secure data communication between users and servers. Enable HTTPS, not just on the home page only, but on all web pages on your website.

In order to prevent session hijacking, organizations can incorporate certain encryptions. For example, they can use TLS (Transport Layer Security) or fail-over to HTTPS from HTTP. These technologies will ensure that any information between the server and client is encrypted, which prevents others from seeing it.

However, even with encryption, users will still be susceptible to phishing attacks or having their accounts hijacked if they fall for a fake login page or email address. Users should never enter sensitive information into any website that asks them to do so, especially if they have concerns about security or privacy.

In order to protect a user’s session from getting hijacked, organizations can incorporate certain encryptions. This way, no one can see what you’re doing on your computer.

It’s not always possible for organizations to do this, especially if the company doesn’t have an IT department or technical staff. But there are several ways they can protect users from session hijacking attacks:

Use site-specific passwords: When you log into a website or an app with your username and password, it sends your username and password over the internet in an unencrypted form. This means anyone who intercepts your data can see them — as well as any other information you’ve entered on that site — and use them to take over your account.

Encrypt passwords: If you’re using an app like LastPass or 1Password, you can generate passwords that are stored only on your device’s local storage (not on the cloud). That way, even if someone gets access to your device’s memory (or steals it), they won’t be able to see anything stored there because it was encrypted before being sent over the internet

Read More – 21+8 Best WordPress Security Tips & Tricks [UPDATED]

Use Web Framework to manage session cookies

Use long random session ID’s which are difficult to understand with brute force attacks. Instead of creating them yourself, use a web framework to create and manage session cookies.

Change session ID after authentication

The session ID on your website needs to be regenerated after a user authenticates. If the original ID was stolen by cybercriminals, regeneration makes it invalid as another is recreated.

Update your website

Updating your wordpress version is important when it comes to security and stability, it protect your visitors from online vulnerabilities. Outdated websites are exposed to several weaknesses that attackers can exploit. It is recommended for users to always be on the latest version of their WordPress theme.

Also read What Are WordPress Security Updates & How To Check?

Preventative Measures For Website Users

As an online user, here is how to avoid session hijacking and cookie stealing while browsing a website.

Treat links with caution

As an Internet user, avoid clicking on unnecessary links on a website. If you are unsure of the source of a link, ignore it. Beware of messages or emails from unverified sources asking you to login or change your login information.

Avoid open wireless networks

Open hotspots or wireless networks are bait to lure you into attackers’ networks. Cyber ​​criminals understand that people like freebies so they offer infected open wireless network for victimization. If you must use one, avoid making payment transactions or entering sensitive information while you’re there.

Use secure websites

Websites not secured with HTTP lack maximum security and are easy prey for hackers. They can invade your browsing session without much effort. Always look for secure websites with HTTPS for your online interactions.

Install security software

Install security software on the devices you use for your online activities. Don’t stop there. Try updating the security software as this protects your device from malware used to perform session hijacking.

Session Fixation Prevention Tips

To eliminate the possibility of such an attack

​Session renewal after successful login:

When a user logs in, their session is renewed with a new server-generated session ID. This way, the hacker doesn’t have any access to the user’s actual session ID which is usable.

Session destruction after successful logout

When a user logs out, their session and all the information is deleted. This prevents the session ID from being compromised and used again.

Session cookie marked “http only”

This prevents the session cookie – the key to a user’s established session – from being read or written by JavaScript-based code on the client’s computer. Fortunately, all modern web browsers (at least the latest versions of Opera, Internet Explorer, Safari, Chrome and Firefox) support this type of session cookie protection.

Force SSL for all authenticated sessions

When keeping the user from logging into a session over unencrypted HTTP, it protects the user from hackers who could be listening in on their data sent over HTTP to the server.

Get Expert Help Against Session Hijacking and Cookie Stealing

An average online user initiates multiple sessions per day. Each session is an opportunity for attackers to strike.

When cybercriminals encounter no resistance in their attempt to break into your network, they will not hesitate to do so. In fact, it will give them the confidence to wreak more havoc than they originally planned.

Treat each session on your website or online with caution; chances are you are already the target of attackers.

WP Hacked Help WordPress malware scanner offers you the right solution for all session hijacking AKA cookie stealing problems. It is an online malware scanner specifically designed for WordPress websites, this tool aims to provide simple, safe and effective scanning and security for your entire website.