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What is a Session Hijacking?

Session hijacking is the exploitation of valid computer sessions for gaining unauthorized access to the computer or server. Often it is known as cookie hijacking. A session hijacking attacker could do whatever you can on the platform. The hijacker, in consequence, deceives the computer or website into believing that they are the legitimate user of the computer or service.

A session hijacker may start taking over an online session and create a lot of difficulty for the client, as though a hijacker can seize a website and put the owner and the visitors at risk.

How does Session Hijacking Work?

As the HTTP is a dynamic protocol, development teams had to come up with a technique to monitor the status of several sessions within the same client rather than requiring the client to validate each time they visited a website. A session is a set of interactions of two connectivity endpoints that take place throughout the course of one connection. When a user signs into a program, the website creates a session to keep track of the progress for subsequent requests from the same individual.

Sessions are used by programs to save variables that are important to the user. As far as the client is signed on to the platform, the session remains live on the host. The session is terminated only when the client signed out of the platform or after a certain time of absence. The data of users should be erased from the allotted computer memory once the session is ended for security and privacy.

Sessions are used by programs to save variables that are important to the user. As far as the client is signed on to the platform, the session remains live on the host. Only when a client signed out of the platform or after a certain time of absence, the session is terminated. The data of users should be erased from the allotted computer memory once the session is ended for cybersecurity and privacy measurement.

Session IDs have a number of security issues in addition to their usefulness. Many famous organizations create Session IDs utilizing methods that are dependent on easily predictable factors like date or destination IP, resulting in predictable session IDs. Session IDs are communicated in the open and are vulnerable to spying if protection is not provided.

What are the Methods of Session Hijacking?

Capturing the person's session cookie, identifying the session ID inside the cookie, and utilizing that data to control the session are frequent session hijacking methods. A session key is another name for the session ID. The attacker may exploit the connection without ever being discovered once they have the session ID.

What are the Methods of Session Hijacking

Figure 1. What are the Methods of Session Hijacking?

Here are some common methods of session hijacking:

1. Cross-Site Scripting

Dangerous malware or applications running on the client-side can be used to hijack the valid session. Here is how a Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) attack might be used to capture the session token. If a person exploits a target with a fabricated link containing a malicious Payload, the script will execute and fulfill the suspect's commands when the target clicks on the link.

The cross-site scripting attack exploits an internet server's security vulnerabilities. The attacker uses cross-site scripting to insert programs into online sites. These scripts let the internet browser give the session key to the attacker, allowing them to take control of the session.

2. Session Side Jacking

Sidejacking exploits and unprotected progress were made between the victim and an underlying operating system. The hacker sniffs internet traffic for unprotected communication containing session tokens. Once a session token has been obtained, the hacker can spoof the client by utilizing the hijacked token with the specific implementation. This type of session hijacking cyberattack involves using a legitimate session token to obtain illegal entry to the victim system or data. Identity fixation, hacking a client or server system, and obtaining the session token are other ways to hijack a session.

3. Brute Force

Consistent data like the person's IP address and the time and location of the login process are often used in the session ID. By using a brute force technique, hackers can estimate these types of identifying patterns.

The brute force attack is a strategy used by hackers to push their way into an account of a website, or server by bypassing regular login mechanisms. Hackers achieve this by trying to log in many times using guesses for credentials combinations. For session hijacking, the same concept applies- an attacker may try their hand at predicting session IDs until they find something that works. Brute force attempts become easier to carry out when easy session IDs are used.

4. Malware

A malware attack can hijack users' sessions for different web applications or platforms. However, malware can also be spread by session hijacking. Both of these are applicable for session hijacking.

For example, a user whose sessions are compromised by the attacker can be an easy target of a malware attack. On the other hand, when a user is under the attack of malware, his/her session IDs for different platforms can be compromised.

5. Session Fixation

This method takes a legitimate session ID that hasn't been verified yet. The hacker then attempts to mislead the victim into using this ID to authenticate. The hacker now has entry to the computer or network after being confirmed. Session fixation investigates a flaw in the online application handling session IDs.

Here there are three ways of session fixation:

  • Session tokens concealed in a URL parameter
  • Session credentials are hidden in a form field, or
  • Hidden in a session cookie

How to Perform Session Hijacking?

Session Hijacking usually performs in five steps. However, it is not always the same for all session hijacking approaches. Here are the five steps of performing session hijacking.

Step 1: Finding the target

Anyone can be a target of sessions hijacking due to lack of cybersecurity standards. Moreover, there are many events of target based session hijacking attacks.

Step 2: Active Session Sniffing

When the target is vulnerable, the second step is to exploit the target and further approach of session sniffing.

Step 3: Monitoring

Session hijacking attacks can be fruitful as long as the session is active. So, monitoring the activity whether the session is active, or not is needed for performing session hijacking.

Step 4: Data Stealing

As long as the hacker has access to the active session of any account, system, or software, s/he could steal data to the remote destination.

Step 5: Taking over the system

Taking over the whole system is often common in session hijacking attacks. It is considered as the final stage of session hijacking attack where the attacker gains full control of the system.

How to Test Session Hijacking?

Because the testing approach is aimed against the attackers, it should only be used on sites that haven't fully implemented HSTS (HTTP Strict-Transport-Security). On the website during testing, presume there will be two testing identities, one for the user and one for the offender. Now create a situation in which a hacker takes all cookies that aren't secured from HTTP transmission and offers them to the webpage in order to acquire control of the defendant's account. Session hijacking is conceivable if these credentials are sufficient to operate on behalf of the victim.

Here are four steps to test session hijacking:

Step 1: Log in to the account with valid credentials. Check for the security protocols within the platform that are tested.

Step 2: Delete all the cookies of the website or application from the platform you are accessing the web application. Consider the following two things when deleting the cookies:

i. Delete the cookies of the platform which has HSTS adoption.

ii. Delete all the cookies of the platform which does not comply with HSTS adoption.

Step 3: Take a backup of the container that holds cookies. Examine the cookie jar for further uses.

Step 4: Use the backup cookies to perform step 1 again and if it is successful, the platform is not secure enough to prevent session hijacking attacks.

How to Detect Session Hijacking?

A session is formed whenever a user authenticates with a web platform or application. With each HTTP request, a new, unique, and random session ID is issued and provided from the user to the application. This session Key might be given in the response content, as a query parameter, or as a component of the URL.

Session hijacking is difficult to spot and, in most situations, remains undiscovered until the hacker does significant harm or attracts attention to his existence in the platform. Throughout a hijacking, users may observe a few signs. The client application session, for instance, stops functioning or crashes. A further sign is a brief spike in internet activity, which causes the machine to lose momentum.

Another typical indication would be when the client program stalls for an extended period of time since the hacker is also transmitting data to another server. The software becomes puzzled as a result of this and waits for a response from Layer 4 of the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) model. The connection then gets congested as a result of an ACK storm seen between the primary client and the server, which occurs when the stolen client tries to transmit additional data to the server that is out of synchronization with what the host expects. Ordinary and even skilled internet users, on the other hand, seldom notice these particular indications since they resemble other typical concerns like malfunctioning apps, overburdened servers, or a connection with excessive load-dropping communications.

When a user encounters a hanging program, they often close it and start an alternative. Meanwhile, the attacker is most likely having a field day with the previously authorized session that the genuine user generated.

Identification can be aided by a few technologies available to security experts. In the subsequent sections, traffic sniffers and Intrusion Detection Systems (IDSs) will be addressed.

On the other hand, The IEEE 802.11 family of broadband wireless principles are expanding to overcome many of the known vulnerabilities that hampered older wireless technologies. However, existing standards rely on tenuously linked data structures and fail to validate hooks are fitted and network interface card identifiers. As a consequence, there are major flaws that might lead to Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS), session hijacking, and address spoofing attacks. Wireless communication installations must be accompanied by a wireless intrusion detection system until the rules are revised to address these issues, which is a difficult and understudied subject. This research proposes unobtrusive, computationally efficient, consistent, and low-impact strategies for enhancing the identification of session hijacking attacks. The outcomes of the experiments are provided to demonstrate the approaches' usefulness.

How to Prevent Session Hijacking?

Session hijacking is a serious concern, as individuals are always susceptible to hacking. By employing security requirements, a website or application management may limit these risks in a number of ways. Strong encrypting throughout whole web apps are used in these security precautions to lock down all points of entry for hackers to hijack the user's session.

With the quantity of data on the internet growing all the time and more individuals utilizing the internet daily, it is critical for businesses to keep their platforms safe. Failure to comply with international data privacy standards might result in harsh penalties.

Here are some ways of preventing session hijacking:

  • Enable HTTPS: An insecure website invites hackers to take advantage of the opportunity to hijack a user's session. Protect the software platform as a webmaster by utilizing current TLS protection to secure data transfer between clients and applications. Activate Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure to avoid such attacks. Not just on a page of the website, but on all of the website's pages. One of the most important advantages of HTTPS is that it increases reliability and security. It defends clients from Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) cyberattacks, which may be conducted from hacked or unsecured connections. Cybercriminals can use such methods to steal important information like login credentials and session IDs from clients. SSL encrypts all data sent between the server and the browser during a user's interaction with the website. This is a critical element in the areas of data security, particularly in light of the new General Data Protection Regulation concerning information security.

  • Session Cookies Management Framework: When it comes to evaluating online apps, a thorough grasp of session management is essential. Many more testing cases involving root access and security systems are based on these ideas. As a result, we propose that all new testers set aside steps to ensure that they are well-versed in these principles. There are several major objectives that apply the following:

  • Credentials for sessions must be identified and confirmed.

  • Know the structure for session management.

  • Minimize false alarms and expectation traps. After the initial user's query, web services can generate sessions to keep track of anonymous users. Keeping the user's preferred language is an approach. Sessions will also be used by web apps once the user has authorized them. This assures that the user can be identified on account of growing demand, as well as applying security and access restrictions, granting permitted accessibility to the user's sensitive data, and improving the user's attractiveness. As a result, existing web programs may support sessions both before and after identification.

  • Modify Session ID After Authentication: After a user has successfully logged into a system, many online applications require changing the session ID. The session ID appears in two separate contexts-making it vulnerable to exploitation. i. Authenticated ii. Non-authenticated. The hacker might initiate a connection, which was then maintained by a valid user's login, and afterward re-use the session to obtain entry to the system. As a result, using that session id, a hacker can get access to a valid user's assets. Modifying the session ID after authentication is an easy solution for session hijacking. While many of the cyberattacks are being conducted from the session IDs and cookies. The modification could stop the hacker from using the session ID for further uses.

Now let's look at some principles for users to avoid session hijacking from the user-end

  • Avoid Public Wi-Fi: Most people using public WiFi have a lot of valuable and potentially highly confidential information on their computers, some of which would be hazardous if an attacker gets their hands on it. Nevertheless, the number of public WiFi users are likely unaware of the dangers they are exposed to. If you want to be secure when using wifi networks, you must first understand the risks. The most frequent public WiFi security problem is session hijacking. The hacker hijacks data regarding the system and its connectivity to web applications or other resources in this instance. Once the hacker gains that data, he may set up his computer to seem like yours and take over the communication. For example, once you sign in to your accounts, hackers may steal your access. From the business's perspective, it would appear to be your system, and as you are already signed in, the hacker would have full access to the system.

  • Use VPN: It is difficult, but not unthinkable, for attackers to recognize you and trace your internet activities when your communication is not encrypted and routed through a VPN server. The internet service provider (ISP) does have a lot of information regarding what you do digitally, and due to many circumstances, it may sell aggregated user information. Using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) prevents session hijacking. When you turn on a VPN, it establishes a secure channel, also known as a tunnel, connecting your devices and a VPN provider's distant server. All of your internet data is sent through this tunnel to the host, which further forwards it to the regular internet as normal. The data that returns to your device follows the same pattern: first from the web to the private network, via the encrypted tunnel, and returned to the device.

  • Use a firewall: Firewalls defend your computer system or network from any outside cyber attackers by filtering out dangerous or superfluous network activity. Firewalls can also prevent session hijacking from gaining access to a device, web account, or connection. Moreover, firewalls can be set up to restrict data from specific sites, programs, or protocols while permitting important data to get across.

What Do Attackers Gain from Session Hijacking?

Based on the importance of the service being accessed and the quality of the information exposed, a session hijacking attempt could pose a serious danger. The following are some of the possible consequences of a cyberattack.

Here goes a list of what do the attackers gain from the session hijacking:

  • Financial Fraud: When hackers have gained access to financial systems, they can carry out transactions in the name of a legal user. Hackers may, for instance, use active session information to make orders, transfer payments on behalf of the individual, or even get access to intellectual property.
  • Data Breach: Hackers get unlawful access to the information on a vulnerable system by exploiting hijacked sessions and login information. After that, attackers use this information to abuse the business or victims via malware attacks and the threat of disclosing personally identifiable information.
  • Bypass Single Sign-On (SSO): An ongoing session could also be used to connect to these other applications that utilize SSO authentication. Because SSO solutions often delegate session protection to users, systems with less dependable cookies and poor authentication mechanisms are more difficult to secure. Hackers can bypass the Single Sign-On security when the session is hijacked and conduct any activity with the full permission of a legitimate user though it is not done by the original owner of the property.

What is an Example of Session Hijacking?

Several examples of session hijacking are available with different types of attack patterns. Man in the middle attack is the most common among the others. Here is an example of a man-in-a-middle attack that steals a session and bypasses the authentication process as it is a legitimate user of the platform.

First, consider an event where the data is being intercepted. Here the attacker installs a program that analyzes the network for the communication that is not secure. Afterward, when the user logs in on any platform the hacker gets the session ID and related information and redirects the user to a fake page that is almost identical to the original one. Later the fake webpage gathers the data that can be used for further cyberattacks.

An attacker can gain an information transmission between a client and server in this instance. By convincing the client that it is still connecting with the website and convincing the website that it is still getting data from the user, the attacker can gain data from each other and incorporate their own wrong info into any subsequent transmission.