Session Hijacking Could Compromise All of Your Accounts

In today's digital age, where we rely heavily on the internet for almost everything, the risk of cyber threats is at an all-time high. One such threat that has gained significant attention in recent times is session hijacking.

It is a type of cyber-attack where a hacker steals the session ID or cookie of an authenticated user and takes control of their ongoing session. This hijacking can compromise all of the user's accounts and can cause significant damage. 

In this article, we will discuss the concept of session hijacking, the various types of session hijacking, and ways to prevent it from happening.

What is Session Hijacking

Session Hijacking
Session Hijacking helps attackers use copies of victim logins to access accounts. (Source: Invicti)

Session hijacking, also known as cookie hijacking, is a type of cyber-attack where an attacker takes control of an ongoing session between a user and a website. This session is usually authenticated by a session ID or a cookie, which is generated when the user logs in. 

Session IDs are unique identifiers that are assigned to each user, and they are usually stored in the browser's cookies. These cookies contain sensitive information such as login credentials, session keys, and other personal data. 

If a hacker gets hold of this session ID or cookie, they can impersonate the user and access all their data and resources.

How Sessions Get Hijacked

XSS attack
Caption: XSS attacks use scripts to send copies of your data to hackers. (Source: Cloudflare)

There are various types of session hijacking attacks, and some of the most common ones include:

IP Spoofing

In this type of attack, the hacker spoofs or fakes the IP address of the victim and intercepts the traffic between the user and the website. This allows the hacker to obtain the session ID and take control of the user's session. 

IP spoofing is a sophisticated technique, and it requires a high level of expertise to execute. It can be prevented by using encryption and strong authentication mechanisms.

Cross-Site Scripting

In Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) attacks, the hacker injects malicious scripts into a website, which can then be executed on the user's browser. These scripts can steal session IDs, cookies, and other sensitive information from the user's browser. 

XSS attacks are often used to steal sensitive data, such as credit card information, passwords, and personal data. To prevent XSS attacks, website owners should implement proper input validation and output encoding techniques.

Session Fixation

In a session fixation attack, the hacker sets the session ID for the user before the user logs in. This allows the hacker to use the same session ID as the user and hijack their session. Session fixation attacks are commonly used to steal sensitive data, such as login credentials and personal information. 

To prevent session fixation attacks, website owners should generate a new session ID for each user after they log in.

Man-in-the-Middle Attack

In a Man-in-the-Middle Attack (MitM) attack, hackers intercept the traffic between you and the websites you visit. This interception allows them to eavesdrop on the session and steal the session ID. 

MitM attacks are commonly used to steal sensitive data, such as credit card information, login credentials, and personal data.

How You Can Prevent Session Hijacking Attacks

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Session hijacking can have severe consequences, and it can compromise all of the user's accounts. Once a hacker gains control of a user's session, they can perform various malicious activities, such as transferring funds, accessing emails, or even hijacking social media accounts. 

Fortunately, there are various ways to prevent session hijacking attacks. Here are some best practices that you can follow to protect your accounts from session hijacking;

Use Two-Factor Authentication

Two-factor authentication adds an extra layer of security to your accounts. Even if a hacker gets hold of your session ID or password, they cannot access your account without the second factor, such as a code sent to your phone.

For example, imagine that a hacker has obtained your login credentials, including your username and password. Without 2FA, the hacker could easily use these credentials to log into your account and take control of your session.

Clear Your Browser's Cache

When you browse the web, your browser stores certain data, such as session IDs, cookies, and website data, in its cache. This data helps websites load faster and allows you to access them more quickly.

However, clearing your browser's cache and cookies regularly can help prevent session hijacking attacks. This removes any stored session IDs or cookies, making it harder for hackers to hijack your session. 

Use a Virtual Private Network

A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, can help prevent session hijacking by providing a secure and encrypted network connection for users. Reliable VPN service providers offer strong encryption, better privacy, and, in some cases, network monitoring.

One example of a highly reliable VPN service is NordVPN. It offers you access to over 5,500 secure, RAM-only servers that span the globe. NordVPN also locks data traffic down with military-grade encryption.

Be Vigilant of Suspicious Activities

Always be vigilant of suspicious activities on your accounts, such as unauthorized transactions or changes to your personal information. If you notice any suspicious activities, immediately change your password and contact the website's customer support team.

Keep Your Software Up-to-Date

Keep your operating system, browser, and other software up-to-date to ensure that you have the latest security patches and fixes. This can prevent known vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit to hijack your session.

Use a Password Manager

Hackers that leverage session hijacking are banking on the fact that users don't want to keep entering passwords. It's trouble to constantly have to re-type them, not to mention a headache to keep track of the hundreds or thousands of account credentials we need.

Password managers can solve this problem by working on your behalf to create, store, and recall any number of complex passwords and passphrases. By using them, you can eliminate the need to store session tokens and can regularly wipe your browser cache and cookies.

Examples of Known Session Hijacking Attacks

Unfortunately, session hijacking attacks are all too common in today's digital landscape, with hackers constantly searching for new ways to exploit vulnerabilities in websites and applications.

Over the years there have been several relatively high-profile session hijacking attacks. Examples include;

Yahoo Session Hijacking

In 2015, Yahoo suffered a security breach in which attackers stole the session cookies of over 1 billion users. The attackers were able to use these session cookies to access users' accounts without the need for a password. This was one of the largest data breaches in history. (Source: Reuters)

Facebook Session Hijacking

In 2018, a vulnerability in Facebook's “View As” feature allowed attackers to steal session tokens, which they could use to hijack users' accounts. The attack affected over 50 million users. (Source: Hacker Noon)

Linus Tech Tips YouTube Account Hijack

Tech YouTuber Linus almost lost his entire YouTube channel to session hijackers

In early 2023 famous tech YouTube channel Linus Tech Tips suffered a session hijack. An employee inadvertently ran a script that sent their session token data to attackers. The attackers then took control of the channel, even without access to passwords or other security measures. (Source: The Verge)

Google Session Hijacking

In 2019, a researcher discovered a vulnerability in Google's Chrome browser that allowed attackers to hijack sessions by exploiting a flaw in the way cookies were handled. The vulnerability was fixed in a subsequent update. Source: 

Good Cybersecurity Habits Are Essential for Online Safety

Session hijacking is a serious threat that can compromise all of your accounts and lead to severe consequences. Hackers can gain control of your session by stealing your session ID or cookie, and once they have access, they can perform various malicious activities. 

However, by following the best practices mentioned above, you can protect your accounts from session hijacking attacks. Always be vigilant of suspicious activities and take immediate action if you notice any unauthorized access to your accounts. 

Stay safe online!

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Timothy Shim

Tim is a former tech journalist turned web technology junkie. He spends his time exploring the best in digital privacy and security tools. Meanwhile, experiments with SEO continue to increase his blood pressure. ( Contact Tim on Linkedin )

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