Secure cookies are a type of HTTP cookie that have Secure attribute set, which limits the scope of the cookie to "secure" channels (where "secure" is defined by the user agent, typically web browser). When a cookie has the Secure attribute, the user agent will include the cookie in an HTTP request only if the request is transmitted over a secure channel (typically HTTPS). Although seemingly useful for protecting cookies from active network attackers, the Secure attribute protects only the cookie's confidentiality. An active network attacker can overwrite Secure cookies from an insecure channel, disrupting their integrity. This issue is officially referred to as Weak Integrity. However, some browsers, including Chrome 52 and higher and Firefox 52 and higher, forego this specification in favor of better security and forbid insecure sites (HTTP) from setting cookies with the
An HTTP cookie is a small packet of data that is sent from a web server to a user's web browser. Since HTTP is a stateless protocol, it cannot relay information from one page to the other and so there was a need of a cookie. There are two types of cookies:
- Persistent cookies - Cookies that store information in user's browser for a long time.
- Non-persistent cookies - Cookies that generally expire once the browser is closed.
The cookies could contain sensitive information such as passwords and credit card numbers. These are sent over an HTTP connection and are stored in web browsers as plain text, and so can be targeted and be used by attackers to steal the information stored in it. To prevent such information exposure cookies are secured with attributes.
Cookie theft and hijacking
Various cookie hijacking techniques exist. All the methods are not difficult to implement and can do significant damage to a user or an organization. Cookies that contain sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, and session identifiers can be captured using these tools once they are downloaded from a site to a web browser or accessed through a computer hard drive.
End system threats
Cookies can be stolen or copied from the user, which could either reveal the information in the cookies or allow the attacker to edit the contents of the cookies and impersonate the users. This happens when a cookie, which is in the browser's end system and stored in the local drive or memory in clear text, is altered or copied from one computer to another with or without the knowledge of the user.
The attacker can try to impersonate a website by accepting cookies from the users. Once the attacker gets the cookies, he can use these harvested cookies for websites that accept third-party cookies. An example of this threat is the so-called Cross-Site Scripting attack, which involves the exploitation of the vulnerabilities of a website displaying data provided by the user that has underlying malicious intent. An attacker, for instance, could embed a script in a URL he has posted in a discussion forum, message board, or email, which is then activated when the target opens the hyperlink.
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