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What is Session Hijacking and How to Protect Yourself?

what is session hijacking and how to protect yourself

What is Session Hijacking? – Many of you are unaware of this odd term. Before going further, we need to understand about session concept and importance of SSL Certificate.

The session starts when you log in to a website and ends when you log out from the system. It shows a timeframe during which two computer systems communicate with each other.

Generally, the session traces the interaction of users with the website, and it can be any activities like purchase of a product, browsing site, message sending.

A session is created to know about the user’s behavior and store the user’s data relating to a particular session ID.

How Does Session Hijacking Works?

An attacker takes control of your session in session hijacking attack. A temporary cookie is placed in the browser when a session starts. This technique is also called cookies hijacking or Cookie side jacking attack.

Session hijacking is performed mostly on applications and browser sessions. Attackers capture the session and catch a session ID.

Once attackers have a session ID, they can use it in their browser and makes the server believe that the server is communicating with the correct user.

Ways for Session hijacking:

Session hijacking attack can be done in three ways mainly: Cross-Site Scripting, Session Fixation, Session Sniffing.

Cross Site Scripting:

XSS (cross-site scripting) is a mostly used session hijacking attack method in which an attacker can exploit a vulnerability in a server or application and inject JavaScript/client-side script into webpages.

This malicious script forces a browser to run malicious code during the loading of a compromised page. To get session ID, attackers make fool visitors by visiting a malicious webpage via phishing mail or message. Once a visitor clicks on the phishing link, the attacker accesses the session ID.

Even if the HttpOnly attribute is not set in the server, then an attacker can access the session key and gain access to required information during session hijacking.

cross site scripting

Session Fixation:

Session fixation also involves a malicious or phishing link. Here, an attacker finds a vulnerable server on which another user’s session ID is set.

However, a vulnerable server does not allow a new session ID to the user but assigns an existing session ID. When an attacker sends a link to a user with the current session ID, a user clicks on it and both get authenticated with an existing session ID.

An attacker can hijack the session later. Another method is to add a fixed session ID on a login page intentionally made to deceive the user.

Session Sniffing:

Authenticate measures plays a role in creating a secure channel between the user and the browser. So, if a website does not have an SSL certificate, the traveling data remains in plaintext. In this situation, an attacker can access session ID using a packet sniffer. A packet sniffer can obtain data packets transmitted across a network connection. Moreover, an insecure public wi-fi can also be hijacked with a packet sniffer due to the non-availability of authentication on it.

session sniffing

How to prevent Session Hijacking?

Session hijacking can be avoided with few easy measures. From SSL installation to clear cookies, you can take precautions to prevent such annoyance.

Use HTTPS: HTTPS creates secure session traffic that nullifies the chances of hijacking plaintext session ID. The use of HSTS also guarantees that each connection is encrypted even an attacker tries to intercept ongoing traffic.

HttpOnly: There should be an HttpOnly attribute with the ‘Set-Cookie’ HTTP header. It avoids client-side scripts to access cookies. It also prevents XSS attacks that rely on browser injection using JavaScript. For extra security, ‘Secure’ and ‘SamSite’ directives should be enabled.

Frameworks: Web frameworks offer the safest and well-tested session ID generation and its management. It is wise to use such generated session ID instead of a self-generated session ID.

Regenerate Session Key: Once the authentication is done, the session ID should be changed to prevent hacking. As a result, if hackers were aware of the previous session ID, it would be of no use for them.

Identity Verification: Besides cookies, there should be identity verification done for IP addresses, application usage patterns. Additional identity verification must be there beyond the session key.

Malware Protection: Always keep premium malware and antivirus protection as well as patch your software regularly. It will protect your users from unexpected vulnerabilities.

Phishing URL: Check before you click on a phishing URL or unknown URL. It may redirect you to a crafted page that could steal your credentials and install malware on the system. Always log in through the official website instead of a link.

Clear Cookies: Once the session is completed, clear the cookies to prevent session hijacking and stealing of cookies. The attacker will not be able to trace cookies if accidentally you have visited any vulnerable or malicious site.

Conclusion:

Session hijacking is a web session control process that manages session tokens. Session hijacking as we have seen can be prevented from the client-side and for that, protection is required on the website. However, to boost the security level a server-side precaution is also necessary to keep session hijacking attacks away from you.

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