Session hijacking

Last updated on January 05th, 2022 by Joel Farrugia. Filed under

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What is session hijacking?

A hijacking happens when an attacker takes over an ongoing user session. In a successful hijack, the user effectively takes over the user session gaining all of the privileges and access rights associated with that user. The user whose session had been hijacked might not even become aware of what has happened, making such attacks challenging to detect.

How does hijacking work?

An attacker can hijack a session in different ways, including using a stolen or guessed password, or by stealing the HTTP through vulnerabilities such as XSS (Cross-Site Scripting).

A stolen or guessed password can mean full access to all of the resources that the user account has access to. Without strong password and authentication policies in place, the risk of password theft is increased exponentially thanks to a propensity for easy passwords and password sharing.

Vulnerabilities such as XSS can also lead to session hijacking. Through XSS, an attacker can inject malicious code into a victim’s browser, allowing the attacker to steal information including cookies. Once the cookie has been stolen, the attacker can hijack the user’s session.

Why is session hijacking dangerous?

Session hijacking is dangerous as it allows an attacker to assume the identity of a legitimate user, giving them access and rights to all of the resources the user has. While the potential for damage may be limited if a regular user account is hijacked, should an account with administrative rights be hijacked, the repercussions can be considerable.

How to protect your WordPress website from session hijacking

There are several steps that can be taken to protect your website, users, and yourself from hijacking. These steps are considered WordPress security best practices and offer safeguards against different types of attacks.

Use HTTPS (encrypt all website traffic)

Your website should be available over HTTPS. If it is not, the credentials and other data are sent in clear text, making it very easy for an attacker to steal the WordPress user password via a man-in-the-middle attack.

Strong password policies

Strong passwords are by their very nature more difficult to guess. The more complex a password is, the safer it is. Additionally, a comprehensive password policy that includes password expiration and blocking of failed login attempts mitigates many of the risks associated with password hacks.

WPassword is a comprehensive and customizable password policy plugin for WordPress that gives you complete control over password security.

Two-factor authentication

When using two-factor authentication, a stolen or guessed password will not get the attacker very far since they will also need the user’s phone – something a hacker is unlikely to have access to. 2FA requires an additional OTP (One-Time Passcode) to be entered over and above the username and password, which is delivered straight to the user’s phone.

Add 2FA to your WordPress login page with a two-factor authentication (2FA) WordPress plugin. Our plugin WP 2FA makes the implementation of 2FA on WordPress a breeze with several policy and customization options to make sure you stay in control at all times.

Install trusted software

Trusted plugins and themes are trusted for a reason – not only are they developed by professionals, but also go through rigorous testing before they’re released to the public. While there are a number of factors to consider when choosing a WordPress plugin, doing so will help you avoid unnecessary security risks, including hijacking.

Keep everything up to date

Developers release updates to address potential security concerns while adding new features and functionality to the software. This means that keeping WordPress, plugins, and themes up to date will not only leave you more secure but will also provide you with more robust software and new features to look forward to.

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