By Ujwal Ratra, Chief Operating Officer, Astra Security
What Is a Cookie?
In the world of technology, cookies are small bits of data on how you respond and interact with a website. These bits of data are stored in a “jar”. Collectively, cookies help determine your preferences.
For example, you have been searching for a pair of jeans to buy online. Soon enough, as you scroll down your social media feed, you find ads about jeans and similar denim wear popping in your feed. Those are the cookies at work.
Even if you have been searching for jeans at a different website, you will find ads about them on social media. This is because the cookies are shared among ad and analytics services all across the internet. Ideally, trusted connections and servers are the only ones who have access to your cookies.
What If a Hacker Gets Ahold of Your Cookies?
Cookie stealing is a serious issue.
When a website is hacked, any information that your website visitors have entrusted to you is at risk. This is why you need to take immediate steps for damage control such as quick recovery and finding the hack.
The most common way for cookie stealing to happen is when a hacker logs in the same network as the website user. This is why it is unsafe to use public Wi-Fi or an unsecured network, especially when making purchases.
Another way is through session hijacking. A session is a saved activity between you and a website. For example, when you open your Facebook app, you do not need to log in as it goes straight to your News Feed. This is your session working and it only ends when you actively log out of Facebook.
As you use a session on any website, any information is directed to the website’s database. An unsecured website is prone to session hijacking. Hackers can pose as anonymous users and post encryption masked as an image. When you click on a picture, the encryption is activated and you become a cookie theft target.
When that happens, you become a victim of cookie theft. The hacker can now pose as you on any website and use your details like credit card numbers to make purchases.
If you’re starting a blog, knowing how to protect your website and visitors from such cybercrime is paramount.
How to Prevent Cookie Theft
1. Add an SSL Certificate
An SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate is an effective tool that prevents session hijacking.
Generally, any data is presented through plain text. If a hacker hijacks your session, they can easily read the text and steal it. SSL certificates disguise the data being transferred so that hackers and other malicious entities would not be able to read it.
Whether or not you are managing a small business venture or an owner of a multi-million dollar company, you are not safe from cookie stealing. You may be able to acquire your SSL certificate from your website hosting platform.
2. Your Website Should Be Updated Regularly
A website is hacked once every 39 seconds.
In order to make sure that your website is not included in that number, make sure to update your website regularly. This also includes all themes, plugins, and shortcuts.
Leaving the website outdated gives hackers time to figure out how to infiltrate your system. An updated website also has an updated security protocol. This is a way in order to make sure that you are always one step ahead of the hackers.
3. Put Armor on Your Website.
With worldwide internet users hitting the 4.6 billion mark, it’s not a surprise that hackers are keeping busy doing what they do best. Thus, the need to setup protective measures to keep your website and visitors safe.
One thing you can do is website hardening. It is a range of activities that you routinely do to maintain the security of your website. Most of these activities may seem tedious but it will benefit you in the end.
These include using strong passwords and changing them regularly. You may also block PHP execution and disable file editors on your website.
Another way is to install security plugins like a firewall and malware scanner, 2-way authentication, limited login attempts, etc on your server. This prevents hackers from guessing login information. Your viewers and customers are also secured knowing that it is not that easy to log in their information into your website
4. A Security Plugin Never Hurts
Securing your site does not only protect your data. It also secures your SEO ranking as secured sites rank higher in the search results.
A security plugin gives an added layer of protection to your site. It prevents hackers and other malicious entities from taking control of your website.
There are many free yet powerful options available online and from your web hosting platform. The installation process is easy and the security features may fall into place once the plugin goes active.
Cookies help make the experience unique for every viewer or customer that enters your site. It creates an easier and more pleasurable experience for them. Being able to protect them from cookie theft prevents hackers from having a pleasurable experience of doing whatever they want with your site.
As users, it is also important to keep yourself safe from cookie stealing by regularly clearing your cookie cache in order to delete the information. Another good practice is to not store sensitive information like your shipping address or credit card details. Make it a habit to manually enter your details for every purchase. Do not use the autofill function.
The more you optimize your website, the better protected it is from cookie theft. Make sure to stay updated on this task.
Ujwal Ratra is the Chief Operating Officer at Astra Security. He plays a pivotal role in handling Marketing and Business Development for the company.