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PHP Session Hijacking

What is it?
Session hijacking is the act of taking control of a user session after successfully obtaining or generating an authentication session ID. Session hijacking involves an attacker using captured, brute forced or reverse-engineered session IDs to seize control of a legitimate user's Web application session while that session is still in progress.

Why Session?

HTTP is stateless, so application designers had to develop a way to track the state between multiple connections from the same user, instead of requesting the user to authenticate upon each click in a Web application. A session is a series of interactions between two communication end points that occurs during the span of a single connection. When a user logs into an application a session is created on the server in order to maintain the state for other requests originating from the same user.

Applications use sessions to store parameters which are relevant to the user. The session is kept "alive" on the server as long as the user is logged on to the system. The session is destroyed when the user logs-out from the system or after a predefined period of inactivity. When the session is destroyed, the user's data should also be deleted from the allocated memory space.

Session Hijacking and PHP

Session ID hijacking can be a problem with PHP Websites. The PHP session tracking component uses a unique ID for each user's session, but if this ID is known to another user, that person can hijack the user's session and see information that should be confidential. Session ID hijacking cannot completely be prevented; you should know the risks so you can mitigate them.

For instance, even after a user has been validated and assigned a session ID, you should revalidate that user when he or she performs any highly sensitive actions, such as resetting passwords. Never allow a session-validated user to enter a new password without also entering their old password, for example. You should also avoid displaying truly sensitive data, such as credit card numbers, to a user who has only been validated by session ID.

A user who creates a new session by logging in should be assigned a fresh session ID using the session_regenerate_id function. A hijacking user will try to set his session ID prior to login; this can be prevented if you regenerate the ID at login.

If your site is handling critical information such as credit card numbers, always use an SSL secured connection. This will help reduce session hijacking vulnerabilities since the session ID cannot be sniffed and easily hijacked.

If your site is run on a shared Web server, be aware that any session variables can easily be viewed by any other users on the same server. Mitigate this vulnerability by storing all sensitive data in a database record that's keyed to the session ID rather than as a session variable. If you must store a password in a session variable (and I stress again that it's best just to avoid this), do not store the password in clear text; use the sha1() (PHP 4.3+) or md5() function to store the hash of the password instead.

if ($_SESSION['password'] == $userpwd) { // do sensitive things here}


The above code is not secure, since the password is stored in plain text in a session variable. Instead, use code more like this:

if ($_SESSION['encryptedPwd'] == sha1($userpwd)) { // do sensitive things here}


The SHA-1 algorithm is not without its flaws, and further advances in computing power are making it possible to generate what are known as collisions (different strings with the same SHA-1 sum). Yet the above technique is still vastly superior to storing passwords in clear text.

Use MD5 if you must -- since it's superior to a clear text-saved password -- but keep in mind that recent developments have made it possible to generate MD5 collisions in less than an hour on standard PC hardware. Ideally, one should use a function that implements SHA-256; such a function does not currently ship with PHP and must be found separately.

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posted by Jansan John @ 1:05 AM,
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1 Comments:

At 6:39 AM, Blogger Binny V A said...

Another problem with PHP Sessions is the SEO disadvantage it makes. I will not call it a 'vulnerability' but still is something to look out for.

The problem comes when PHP encounters a User agent that does not support cookies. It will enable URL rewriting to make the user agent capable of handling cookies. Basically what it does is add 'PHPSESSID=[ID]' to all URLs. As one can imagine, it makes all sort of trouble with search engines.

To know more about this problemhttp://www.ragepank.com/articles/26/disable-phpsessid/ and its solution go to...

 

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