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Cookie stealing: is your business at risk?

When you think about cyber security risks that could put your business at risk, you probably think of things such as hackers stealing confidential data, viruses invading your system, or employees accidentally sending sensitive information to the wrong person.

However, some risks are much more subtle and insidious – yet no less dangerous – than those listed above.

Cookie theft is a type of cyber risk that may not immediately come to mind when thinking about business security risks in your business but it should, especially thanks to the shift to remote working and the increased connectivity of apps, devices, and systems.

What are cookies and why are they so important?

Cookies are small pieces of data that websites use to track user activity. They were created as a way to keep track of log-in details, shopping cart contents, and other user preferences. In addition to being helpful for website owners and users, cookies have very little downside. They don’t pose a risk to user security and can easily be cleared from a browser’s cache if users don’t want them.

However, the data that cookies store is incredibly valuable. Cybercriminals are always looking for new ways to steal that data and use it for fraudulent purposes. For example, if someone hacks into your website and steals your authentication cookies, they can use the information stored in those cookies to access your website as if they were you.

Why is cookie theft a problem for your business?

Cookie theft, also known as cookie stealing or session hijacking, is a serious risk to your business because it allows hackers to access sensitive information they wouldn’t otherwise be able to get their hands on. For example, if someone steals your authentication cookies and logs in as you, they can access your email, social media accounts, and other important digital assets. They might also be able to access your bank accounts or other personal information such as credit card details.

An attacker who has a user’s session cookie can use it to log in to a web application and do anything you can, including changing your username and password. This often happens in just seconds, and if the attacker then enforces multifactor authentication against the victim, they may never gain access to their accounts again.

Beyond the immediate damage that cookie theft can cause, it can also create long-term problems for your business, both in terms of financial and reputational. Customers don’t favour businesses that can’t keep their personal or sensitive information secure. It could also harm your ability to attract new customers and retain current customers.

How does a hacker steal your site’s cookie?

Not only are hackers looking for ways to steal authentication cookies, but they’re also actively looking for ways to steal the cookies that track your online activity. This means you have to assume every time you visit a website using your computer or mobile device, you’re leaving a cookie behind.

Hackers can easily access this cookie and use it to track your online activity. They might track your activity on a variety of different websites, including websites related to your business. They could even use that cookie to log in to your email or business accounts.

Generally, threat actors steal cookies through several methods:

  • Packet sniffing is comparable to wiretapping for a telephone network, except it is a type of software designed to collect data packets across a computer network.
  • Cross-site scripting (XSS) injects malicious code into a vulnerable web application, which allows hackers to steal cookies.
  • Pass-the-cookie attacks occur when a malicious user steals a valid cookie and injects it into their session while interacting with a target web application.

How to protect your business from cookie theft

It’s important to note that there are steps you can take to protect yourself from cookie theft. You can’t completely prevent it, but you can take steps to minimise the chances that it will happen to you. Here are a few steps you can take to protect yourself from cookie theft:

Secure your WiFi network

If you’re using WiFi to provide internet access to customers and employees, you need to make sure it’s secure. Hackers often gain access to WiFi networks unsecured by using a “man in the middle” attack (MITMA).

This is when a hacker places a device between the WiFi network and the computers that use it, making it possible for them to intercept data sent between computers and the network. To prevent MITM attacks, make sure your WiFi network is secured with a strong password and features encryption, and request employees don’t access public WiFI when connecting to the network.

Use strong passwords

Strong passwords don’t only protect your business from cybercriminals, they also protect your business from malicious employees. If you want to keep your passwords safe, make sure they are at least 12 characters long, contain a mix of numbers, letters, and symbols, and don’t contain any easily-guessed information like names or birth dates. Password generators can be useful to ensure employees are not using simple passwords that are easily guessed at.

It is also not recommended to save passwords in browsers, as this increases the risks of hackers accessing log-on credentials. Instead, implement the use of a password vault or manager for all users to allow passwords to be stored securely, and avoid the temptation of reusing the same password.

Install antivirus software

Make sure every computer that accesses your website has antivirus software installed and that it is up to date. This software will alert you if malware is present, and it will remove any malware you might accidentally have installed or downloaded.

Train employees to be alert

Unfortunately employees tend to unthinkingly click on links or are tricked into sending information which leads to data breaches. Ongoing security awareness training can ensure they can act if they are suspicious of any emails or activity.

Keep your business secure with the experts

Strengthen your organisation’s IT security defences with the managed security experts from INTELLIWORX who offer a range of security solutions to keep your business systems and networks safe from cyber threats in today’s evolving threat landscape.

Shane Maher

We passionately work on the IT Infrastructure of mid-tier businesses and support MSPs into cloud services. I have over 17 years of commercial experience that includes supporting and managing IT systems, developing infrastructure solutions, both onsite & in the cloud.

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