Hacking Internet Users

Due to a rapid increase in the number of Internet users in the recent years, malicious hackers have now started to target individual users for their attack. Numerous client side vulnerabilities such as browser flaws and lack of security awareness among the Internet users has made them an easy target for hackers.

Objectives of Hacking Internet Users

Hackers target individual users for a wide variety of reasons as mentioned below:
·       For gaining access to confidential information such as credit cards details, bank logins, account information etc.

·       To take control of user’s online accounts such as Email, Facebook and other social network accounts.

·       To earn advertising revenue by forcefully driving users to online advertisements such as banners and pop-ups.

·       To use individual users for attacking other systems such as causing a DDoS attack.

·       Sometimes even for fun or to show-off talent among the hacker’s community.


The following are some of the popularly used techniques to hack individual users on the Internet:

Session Hijacking (Cookie Hijacking)

Since web pages have no memories, they have to use a means to identify and authenticate individual users accessing web pages. Especially when people are accessing restricted pages or secure area which require password authentication, the website needs a means to remember users individually after their successful logins. For example, when people log into their Facebook account (by entering password), they may access several different pages until they finally sign out. It would be impractical to ask users to re-enter password each time they access a different page.

Session Cookies

Therefore, in order to remember individual users, websites store a small file called session cookie on the client side (in the user’s browser) which contains unique authentication information about the user’s active session. These cookies help identify individual users throughout the website. When the user hits the log out button or closes the browser, the session is said to expire.

So, when a hacker manages to steal the cookies of an active session he may inject them to his browser to gain unauthorized to any online account such as emails, social media accounts and so on. This technique is known as session hijacking (also referred to as cookie hijacking or cookie stealing).

Session Hijacking Demo

Below is a demonstration of typical session hijacking performed on a sample Facebook account. Here the hacker may use different techniques such as cross-site scripting (XSS) or packet sniffing to steal the target user’s session cookies.

Even though Facebook stores several cookies in the browser after successful login, there are only two important cookies that contains authentication data to decide an active session. The names of these two cookies are as follows:

1. c_user

2. xs

In order to hijack an active session, one has to gain access to the contents of the above two cookies. Snapshots of the sample data contained in these two cookies are shown below:


Once you have access to the contents of the above two session cookies “c_user” and “xs” it is time to inject them to your browser and gain access to the target user’s Facebook account. A Firefox extension called “Advanced Cookie Manager” makes this job a lot simpler. It provides an option to add and edit cookies stored on Firefox. Here is a step-bystep instruction to inject cookie to Firefox browser:

·       Install the add-on Advanced Cookie Manager to your Firefox browser and open it by clicking the icon present in the toolbar.

·       Switch to the “Manage Cookies” tab and click on the “Add Cookies” button.

·       To create the “c_user” cookie fill in all the details exactly as shown in the below snapshot expect for the “Value” field which has to be replaced by the content from the hijacked cookie. Once you are done click on “Add” button.

·       Again click on “Add Cookie” button to create the cookie “xs” in the same way. After filling the details as shown below click on “Add” button. Do not forget to replace the “Value” field with the content from your hijacked “xs” cookie:

Once you are logged, you can access the account as long as the target user’s session is active. That means, you can access the account in parallel from your own computer until the user hits “Log Out” button on his/her computer.

Session Hijacking Countermeasures

The following are some of the countermeasures to prevent session hijacking on your computer:

·       Use encryption standards such as SSL (HTTPS) to prevent cookie hijacks via packet sniffing.

·       Use an up-to-date browser program to prevent browser exploits.

·       Configure browser to stop running unverified scripts and also avoid using browser plug-ins from untrusted sources.

Email Hacking

Email hacking is one of the prevailing hot topics in the field of ethical hacking. A hacker can gain access to a wide variety of private information about the target user if he manager to hack his/her email account. Some of the possible ways to hack email accounts are discussed below.


Using a spyware program such as keylogger is the easiest way to hack an email or any other online account password. All you need to do is just install the keylogger program on the computer where the target user is likely to access his/her email account from. These spyware programs are designed to operate in a total stealth mode and hence remains completely hidden from normal users. Once the keystrokes are recorded you can unlock the program using a hot key combination or password to view the logs. The logs contain all the keystrokes typed on the computer keyboard including the usernames and passwords.

Modern keylogger programs like Realtime-Spy, SpyAgent and SniperSpy supports remote monitoring feature where you can view the logs even from a remote location.

Some of them also have a feature to send logs through email and FTP.
Even though keyloggers can make the hacking process a lot simpler, they have a few drawbacks. Most of these programs have to be installed manually on the target computer for which you need to have physical access to it. Also, there is a chance of anti-spyware programs detecting and deleting the keylogger installation on the computer.


Phishing is another popular and highly effective technique used by attackers to hack email and other online accounts. Most Internet users would easily fall prey and become victims to this type of attack. However, to device a phishing attack, one has to have at least a basic knowledge of HTML and programming.

Steps Involved in Phishing Attack:

·       The hacker first creates a replica of the target login page such as Gmail, Yahoo! Or any other online account.

·       This page is designed to submit all login information (username and password) on the form fields to a local database instead of the actual website. Hacker would use a scripting language such as PHP and a database such as MySQL to accomplish this.

·       Once the page is integrated to the script and database, the hacker uploads the whole setup to a hosting server so as to make the phishing page go online.

·       The hacker chooses a matching domain (such as gamil.com, gmail-account.com, yahoo-mail.com etc.) for his phishing page so as to avoid any suspicion.

·       Once the phishing page is live and working, the hacker drives people to this phishing page by spreading the phishing link via email, Internet Messenger and forums.

·       Since phishing pages look exactly the same as the real one, people enter their login details on these pages where they are stolen away and gets stored in the hacker’s database.

Session Hijacking

As discussed earlier, it is possible to gain access to an email account through session hijacking. By stealing the cookies of an active session and injecting them to one’s own browser, it is possible to gain access to the target email account. However, if the target user closes his/her ongoing session by logging out, you will no longer be able to access the account. Also, unlike keylogging and phishing, this method does not grant you the password of the target account and hence you will not be able to re-access it at a later time.

Unlocking Stored Passwords

Most users prefer to store the password details of email and other online accounts in the browser to enable speedy access. Sometimes login details of offline email clients such as Outlook are also stored on the computer. This makes them vulnerable to hackers. Nirsoft provides a handful of free tools to recover such stored passwords on Windows. You can download the tools from the link provided below:

Download: http://www.nirsoft.net/password_recovery_tools.html

Email Hacking Countermeasures

Below are some of the countermeasures that you can adopt to prevent your email and other online accounts from getting hacked:

·       Install a good antivirus and anti-spyware program on your computer and keep them up-to-date.

·       Password protect your operating system so that no one can access your computer in your absence.

·       Always perform a malware scan on programs before installing them.

·       Avoid accessing your accounts in public places such as cyber cafes.

·       Make sure that HTTPS is on when you are accessing your emails.

·       Do not click on the links in your email or forum to enter the login page. Instead always type the URL of the website in the browser’s address bar and also make sure that HTTPS is enabled on your login page.

·       Avoid storing your login details on the browser unless you are the only user on the computer.

Other Ways to Hack Internet Users

The following are some of the other hacking methods that are common in practice:

·       JavaScript: Since most client-side applications are written in JavaScript, it also makes a wonderful tool for hackers to write malicious programs for exploiting browser vulnerabilities. Due to lack of security awareness among users, they can easily be fooled into entering sensitive information or navigating to malicious websites. It can also be used to carry out other attacks such as cross-site scripting and phishing.

·       Malware: Using malware is another popular way of hacking Internet users. Hackers make use of malware programs like virus and Trojan horses to accomplish their task by affecting large number of people. A popular example of such attack is the use of “DNSChanger” Trojan which affected millions of Internet users by hijacking their DNS servers.

·       Instant Messaging: Attackers can also target IM users by sending them unsolicited offers in the form of files and links. This may mislead the users into installing malware or navigating to malicious websites.

Chetan Sundarde

What's hurts more, the pain of hard work or the pain of regret?

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