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How to Prevent Cookie Stealing Attacks in WordPress [2024]

Have you ever wondered how hackers silently steal information from your website visitors? The short answer is cookie stealing, which is one of the most common WordPress attacks.

Cookie stealing is not just a threat to users; as a WordPress site owner, you are equally at risk. Imagine if a hacker stole the login cookies for your admin account. It could lead to serious security breaches and compromise your entire website.

But don’t worry. In this guide, we will discuss what a cookie stealing attack is, how it works, and how you can protect your WordPress site from a cookie hijacking attack.

Ready? Let’s get started!

Cookie Stealing Attack: What It Is and How Does It Work?

Cookie stealing, also known as cookie hijacking, is a form of cyber attack in which an attacker steals cookies from a user’s computer or web browser to gain access to their data or login information.

Cookies are typically small text files stored on a user’s device when they visit a website. They contain information about the user’s session and preferences, which allows websites to remember them and provide a personalized experience.

Cookie Stealing Attack

When a hacker gets hold of a user’s cookies, they can hijack the session and access sensitive data. While cookies are generally a secure way to store session information, they still need proper protection.

In WordPress, cookies keep users logged in so they don’t have to log in repeatedly.

hacker gets hold of a user's cookies

How Does Cookie Stealing Work?

Cookie stealing can occur in several ways. Often, a malware program waits for a user to log in to a website. Once the user logs in, the malware steals the session cookie and sends it to the attacker. 

Cookie theft can also happen through unsecured Wi-Fi connections. For example, if a user logs into a site using public Wi-Fi, hackers can intercept the data, including session cookies. This happens even if the site uses encryption for usernames and passwords.

Firesheep Extension

A good example of cookie stealing is the Firesheep extension. Created by Eric Butler in 2010, Firesheep was a Firefox extension that secretly spied on browsing sessions over shared Wi-Fi networks. The extension used the packet sniffing technique to hijack the victim’s session.

Firesheep did not have malicious intent, but it showed how easy it is to steal session cookies from websites that only encrypted the login process.

More Cookie Stealing Techniques

Cybercriminals use various methods to steal cookies. These include:

  • Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) Attacks: Hackers inject malicious code into a website, which executes in the user’s browser and steals their cookies.
  • Phishing Attacks: Fake websites or emails that trick users into entering their login credentials, which attackers use to steal cookies.
  • Exploiting Vulnerabilities: Attackers exploit vulnerabilities in website software to install malware that steals cookies.
  • Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) Attacks: In this type of attack, an attacker intercepts communication between the user’s browser and the website to steal sensitive information.
  • Trojan Malware: Malicious software gives attackers access to a user’s computer, enabling them to steal cookies and other data.

How to Recover Your WordPress Site From Cookie Stealing Attack [5 Simple Steps]

When a cookie stealing attack occurs, regaining control can be stressful, but taking action as soon as possible will minimize the impact. Here are five simple steps to help you restore your WordPress site:

NOTE: Before recovering your website from the Cookie stealing attack, we recommend you download the Password Protected plugin because it lets you lock down your entire site so new users can not access it until you properly remove the malware.

Step #1: Scan Your Website for Malware

Begin by using a security plugin or scanner to search for malicious code that may have been injected into your website. This can help identify vulnerabilities that attackers may have exploited.

using a security plugin

A comprehensive security solution like Sucuri, Jetpack, Wordfence, MalCare, etc., can effectively scan your site and highlight any threats.

Step #2: Remove Malware 

If malware is detected, remove it promptly. Almost all WordPress security plugins that we have mentioned above offer features that can automatically clean your site. Ensuring your site is free of malicious code is crucial for preventing further exploitation.

Step #3: Force Logout All Active Sessions

Log out all users from their current sessions. To do so, update the WordPress salts and security keys in the wp-config file. This action will invalidate all sessions and force the logout of any active users. Ultimately, it prevents attackers from continuing to access user accounts.

Log out all users from their current sessions

Step #4: Set New Passwords 

Encourage all users to change their passwords immediately. Make sure that all administrative passwords are also reset. This step is vital for securing user accounts and preventing unauthorized access.

Step #5: Make sure all Plugins and Themes are Up-to-Date

Check that all plugins and themes on your website are up-to-date. Ant outdated plugins or themes can contain vulnerabilities that attackers exploit to steal cookies and other sensitive data. So, regularly update your plugins and themes to protect your site from potential security breaches.

Check that all plugins and themes on your website are up-to-date

How to Prevent Your WordPress Site From Future Cookie Stealing Attacks

Once you’ve recovered your website from a cookie stealing attack, you must implement all the necessary security measures to prevent future attacks. To prevent cookie theft from your WordPress site, you need to take a proactive approach.

By implementing the following measures, you can minimize the risk of session hijacking and ensure the safety of your site and its users:

1. Install a Web Application Firewall (WAF)

A firewall is one of the most effective defenses against session hijacking attacks. Firewalls like MalCare and Wordfence can detect and block malicious traffic and filter out requests that exploit vulnerabilities in your website’s code.

Web Application Firewall (WAF)

The Web Application Firewall (WAF) monitors incoming traffic for suspicious behavior or patterns related to cookie stealing attacks. Basically, it implements security rules and policies, such as restricting requests originating from suspicious session IDs or any unauthorized access to sensitive information. By doing so, it provides an essential layer of protection for your site.

2. Implement SSL Encryption

Using Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption is crucial for protecting data, including cookies, from being intercepted. SSL encrypts the data transferred between the user’s browser and your server, which makes it difficult for attackers to steal information.

Therefore, make sure your WordPress site uses HTTPS to secure user sessions. For ease of implementation, almost all major web hosting services offer free SSL certificates.

3. Enable Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)

Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) adds an extra security layer to user accounts by requiring a second form of identification in addition to the password. This greatly enhances the overall security of your WordPress site.

All major WordPress security plugins have a feature that allows you to add 2FA to your site. With 2FA, even if an attacker gets your password, they still need the secondary authentication factor to gain access.

4. Make Your Password Requirements Strong

Encourage users to create strong, unique passwords and implement policies that require regular password updates and specific complexity requirements.

Strong passwords are a basic yet powerful defense against unauthorized access. Educate your users about the importance of avoiding common phrases or easily guessable information in their passwords.

5. Keep Your WordPress Up-to-Date

Update your WordPress core regularly to ensure optimal security. Also, don’t forget to update your themes and plugins to the latest versions. Updates often include critical security patches. Outdated software can be vulnerable to attacks. Check for updates weekly. Use automatic updates if possible. Make sure to keep backups before updating any software on your site.

6. Educate Your Users and Administrators  

Make sure your users and administrators are aware of the best security practices. Educate them about the risks of a cookie stealing attack and what they can do to prevent it, such as:

  • Use unique, strong passwords.
  • Avoid suspicious links and downloads.
  • Update WordPress core, themes, and plugins regularly.
  • Stay informed about security threats.
  • Practice safe browsing habits.
  • Conduct regular security training sessions.

If you implement these measures, you can significantly reduce the risk of cookie stealing attacks and enhance the overall security of your WordPress site. Taking these proactive steps creates a safer experience for both you and your users and protects your site from future threats.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Outdated browsers can create vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit to steal cookies. Thus, always update your browser to the latest version to reduce the risk of cookie theft.

Final Remarks on Cookie Stealing in WordPress

Cookie stealing poses significant risks to WordPress site security. Implementing the following strong security measures can help you prevent these attacks in the future.

  • Regularly update your WordPress core, themes, and plugins.
  • Use SSL encryption and enable two-factor authentication.
  • Educate users and administrators about safe browsing practices.
  • Install a firewall to block malicious traffic, etc.

Lastly, in case of a cookie stealing attack, we recommend you use the Password Protected plugin to lock down your website so that new users can not access it until you properly remove the malware.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are cookies in WordPress?

Cookies in WordPress are small files stored on a user’s device. They store session data and preferences to enhance user experience and functionality.

What happens if someone steals your cookies?

If someone steals your cookies, they can hijack your session, access your account, and perform actions as if they were you.

What is the wordpress_logged_in cookie used for?

The wordpress_logged_in cookie keeps users logged in to the site. It helps WordPress recognize you and maintain your session.

How can we protect against cookie theft?

You can protect against cookie theft by using SSL encryption, regularly updating software, enabling two-factor authentication, etc.

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