1. What is Session Hijacking?
Session hijacking is an attack where a user session is taken over by an attacker. A session starts when you log into a service, for example your banking application, and ends when you log out. To perform session hijacking, an attacker needs to know the victim’s session ID (session key). This can be obtained by stealing the session cookie or persuading the user to click a malicious link containing a prepared session ID.
2. What Can Attackers Do After Successful Session Hijacking?
If successful, the attacker can then perform any actions that the original user is authorized to do during the active session. Depending on the targeted application, this may mean transferring money from the user’s bank account, posing as the user to buy items in web stores, accessing detailed personal information for identity theft, stealing clients’ personal data from company systems, encrypting valuable data and demand ransom to decrypt them – and all sorts of other unpleasant consequences.
3. What Is the Difference Between Session Hijacking and Session Spoofing?
While closely related, hijacking and spoofing differ in the timing of the attack. As the name implies, session hijacking is performed against a user who is currently logged in and authenticated, so from the victim’s point of view the attack will often cause the targeted application to behave unpredictably or crash. With session spoofing, attackers use stolen or counterfeit session tokens to initiate a new session and impersonate the original user, who might not be aware of the attack.
4. What Are the Main Methods of Session Hijacking?
- Cross-site scripting (XSS)
- Session side jacking
- Session fixation
- Cookie theft by malware or direct access
- Brute force
5. How Can You Prevent Session Hijacking?
- Use HTTPS to ensure SSL/TLS encryption of all session traffic.
- Web frameworks offer highly secure and well-tested session ID generation and management mechanisms. Use them instead of inventing your own session management.
- Regenerate the session key after initial authentication. This causes the session key to change immediately after authentication, which nullifies session fixation attacks – even if the attacker knows the initial session ID, it becomes useless before it can be used.
- Perform additional user identity verification beyond the session key. This means using not just cookies, but also other checks, such as the user’s usual IP address or application usage patterns. The downside of this approach is that any false alarms can be inconvenient or annoying to legitimate users. A common additional safeguard is a user inactivity timeout to close the user session after a set idle time.
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