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Session Fixation

Page history last edited by Robert Auger 13 years, 9 months ago

Project: WASC Threat Classification

Threat Type: Attack

Reference ID: WASC-37


Session Fixation

Session Fixation is an attack technique that forces a user's session ID to an explicit value. Depending on the functionality of the target web site, a number of techniques can be utilized to "fix" the session ID value. These techniques range from Cross-site Scripting exploits to peppering the web site with previously made HTTP requests. After a user's session ID has been fixed, the attacker will wait for that user to login. Once the user does so, the attacker uses the predefined session ID value to assume the same online identity.


Generally speaking there are two types of session management systems when it comes to ID values. The first type is "permissive" systems that allow web browsers to specify any ID. The second type is "strict" systems that only accept server-side-generated values. With permissive systems, arbitrary session IDs are maintained without contact with the web site. Strict systems require the attacker to maintain the "trap-session", with periodic web site contact, preventing inactivity timeouts.


Without active protection against Session Fixation, the attack can be mounted against any web site that uses sessions to identify authenticated users. Web sites using sessions IDs are normally cookie-based, but URLs and hidden form fields are used as well. Unfortunately, cookie-based sessions are the easiest to attack. Most of the currently identified attack methods are aimed toward the fixation of cookies.

In contrast to stealing a users' session IDs after they have logged into a web site, Session Fixation provides a much wider window of opportunity. The active part of the attack takes place before a user logs in.



The Session Fixation attack is normally a three step process:

1. Session set-up

The attacker sets up a "trap-session" for the target web site and obtains that session's ID. Or, the attacker may select an arbitrary session ID used in the attack. In some cases, the established trap session value must be maintained (kept alive) with repeated web site contact.

2. Session fixation

The attacker introduces the trap session value into the user's browser and fixes the user's session ID.

3. Session entrance

The attacker waits until the user logs into the target web site. When the user does so, the fixed session ID value will be used and the attacker may take over.

Fixing a user's session ID value can be achieved with the following techniques:


Issuing a new session ID cookie value using a client-side script*

A Cross-site Scripting vulnerability present on any web site in the domain can be used to modify the current cookie value


Code Snippet:


Issuing a cookie using the META tag

This method is similar to the previous one, but also effective when Cross-site Scripting countermeasures prevent the injection of HTML script tags and not meta tags.


Code Snippet:



Issuing a cookie using an HTTP response header

The attacker forces either the target web site, or any other site in the domain, to issue a session ID cookie. This can be achieved in many ways:

  • Breaking into a web server in the domain (e.g., a poorly maintained WAP server)
  • Poisoning a user's DNS server, effectively adding the attacker's web server to the domain
  • Setting up a malicious web server in the domain (e.g., on a workstation in Windows 2000 domain, all workstations are also in the DNS domain)
  • Exploiting an HTTP Response Splitting attack

Note: A long-term Session Fixation attack can be achieved by issuing a persistent cookie (e.g., expiring in 10 years), which will keep the session fixed even after the user restarts the computer.


Code Snippet:



"Session Fixation Vulnerability in Web-based Applications", By Mitja Kolsek - Acros Security

[1] http://www.acrossecurity.com/papers/session_fixation.pdf


"Divide and Conquer", By Amit Klein - Sanctum

[2] http://packetstormsecurity.org/papers/general/whitepaper_httpresponse.pdf


Session Fixation

[3] http://cwe.mitre.org/data/definitions/384.html

Comments (2)

Robert Auger said

at 10:35 am on Dec 1, 2009

Thanks for the feedback, we will incorporate this suggestion into the next version.

Bedirhan Urgun said

at 6:06 am on Dec 1, 2009

Add a subtitle "Issuing a cookie using the URL" along with the other methods;

By default some of the J2EE & PHP containers accept cookies as URL parameters. So urls below;

http://example/;JSESSIONID=1234 (J2EE)
http://example/?PHPSESSIONID=1234 (PHP)

when clicked by the victim will be accepted by the server and set as the new cookies by the response.

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