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CAPEC-61: Session Fixation

Session Fixation
Definition in a New Window Definition in a New Window
Attack Pattern ID: 61
Abstraction: Detailed
Status: Draft
Completeness: Complete
Presentation Filter:
+ Summary

The attacker induces a client to establish a session with the target software using a session identifier provided by the attacker. Once the user successfully authenticates to the target software, the attacker uses the (now privileged) session identifier in their own transactions. This attack leverages the fact that the target software either relies on client-generated session identifiers or maintains the same session identifiers after privilege elevation.

+ Attack Steps
  1. Setup the Attack: Setup a session: The attacker has to setup a trap session that provides a valid session identifier, or select an arbitrary identifier, depending on the mechanism employed by the application. A trap session is a dummy session established with the application by the attacker and is used solely for the purpose of obtaining valid session identifiers. The attacker may also be required to periodically refresh the trap session in order to obtain valid session identifiers.

    The attacker chooses a predefined identifier that he knows.

    The attacker creates a trap session for the victim.

  1. Attract a Victim: Fixate the session: The attacker now needs to transfer the session identifier from the trap session to the victim by introducing the session identifier into the victim's browser. This is known as fixating the session. The session identifier can be introduced into the victim's browser by leveraging cross site scripting vulnerability, using META tags or setting HTTP response headers in a variety of ways.

    Attackers can put links on web sites (such as forums, blogs, or comment forms).

    Attackers can establish rogue proxy servers for network protocols that give out the session ID and then redirect the connection to the legitimate service.

    Attackers can email attack URLs to potential victims through spam and phishing techniques.

  1. Abuse the Victim's Session: Takeover the fixated session: Once the victim has achieved a higher level of privilege, possibly by logging into the application, the attacker can now take over the session using the fixated session identifier.

    The attacker loads the predefined session ID into his browser and browses to protected data or functionality.

    The attacker loads the predefined session ID into his software and utilizes functionality with the rights of the victim.

+ Attack Prerequisites
  • Session identifiers that remain unchanged when the privilege levels change.

  • Permissive session management mechanism that accepts random user-generated session identifiers

  • Predictable session identifiers

+ Typical Severity


+ Typical Likelihood of Exploit

Likelihood: Medium

+ Methods of Attack
  • Time and State
  • Injection
+ Examples-Instances


Consider a banking application that issues a session identifier in the URL to a user before login, and uses the same identifier to identify the customer following successful authentication. An attacker can easily leverage session fixation to access a victim's account by having the victim click on a forged link that contains a valid session identifier from a trapped session setup by the attacker. Once the victim is authenticated, the attacker can take over the session and continue with the same levels of privilege as the victim.


An attacker can hijack user sessions, bypass authentication controls and possibly gain administrative privilege by fixating the session of a user authenticating to the Management Console on certain versions of Macromedia JRun 4.0. This can be achieved by setting the session identifier in the user's browser and having the user authenticate to the Management Console. Session fixation is possible since the application server does not regenerate session identifiers when there is a change in the privilege levels.

Related Vulnerabilities

+ Attacker Skills or Knowledge Required

Skill or Knowledge Level: Low

Only basic skills are required to determine and fixate session identifiers in a user's browser. Subsequent attacks may require greater skill levels depending on the attackers' motives.

+ Resources Required

None: No specialized resources are required to execute this type of attack.

+ Probing Techniques

Determining whether the target application server accepts preset session identifiers is relatively easy. The attacker may try setting session identifiers in the URL or hidden form fields or in cookies, depending upon application design. Having access to an account or by utilizing a dummy account, the attacker can determine whether the preset session identifiers are accepted or not.

With code or design in hand, the attacker can readily verify whether preset session identifiers are accepted and whether identifiers are regenerated, and possible destroyed, when privilege levels change.

+ Indicators-Warnings of Attack

There are no indicators for the server since a fixated session identifier is similar to an ordinarily generated one. However, too many invalid sessions due to invalid session identifiers is a potential warning.

A client can be suspicious if a received link contains preset session identifiers. However, this depends on the client's knowledge of such an issue. Also, fixation through Cross Site Scripting or hidden form fields is usually difficult to detect.

+ Solutions and Mitigations

Use a strict session management mechanism that only accepts locally generated session identifiers: This prevents attackers from fixating session identifiers of their own choice.

Regenerate and destroy session identifiers when there is a change in the level of privilege: This ensures that even though a potential victim may have followed a link with a fixated identifier, a new one is issued when the level of privilege changes.

Use session identifiers that are difficult to guess or brute-force: One way for the attackers to obtain valid session identifiers is by brute-forcing or guessing them. By choosing session identifiers that are sufficiently random, brute-forcing or guessing becomes very difficult.

+ Attack Motivation-Consequences
ScopeTechnical ImpactNote
Gain privileges / assume identity
+ Injection Vector

GET or POST data, Hidden form fields and session cookies

+ Payload

Preset session identifier

+ Activation Zone

Target application's session management mechanism

+ Payload Activation Impact

The payload activation impact is that a session identifier of the attackers' choice is considered valid and trust decisions by the application will be based on such a fixated identifier.

+ Relevant Security Requirements

Regenerate session identifiers upon each new request. This ensures that fixated session identifiers are rendered obsolete.

Regenerate a session identifier every time a user enters an authenticated session and destroy the identifier when the user logs out of an authenticated session.

Set appropriate expiry times on cookies that contain session identifiers. This helps limit the window of opportunity for an attacker to use the identifier.

Do not use session identifiers as part of URLs or hidden form fields. It becomes easy for an attacker to trick a user into a fixated session when session identifiers are easily accessible.

Authenticate every transaction by requesting credentials. This ensures that only a legitimate user of the application can proceed with the transaction. If an attacker seeks to perform any such authenticated transaction, valid credentials will be required even though session fixation may have been successful earlier.

+ Purposes
  • Penetration
+ CIA Impact
Confidentiality Impact: HighIntegrity Impact: HighAvailability Impact: Low
+ Technical Context
Architectural Paradigms
+ References
[R.61.1] [REF-2] G. Hoglund and G. McGraw. "Exploiting Software: How to Break Code". Addison-Wesley. February 2004.
[R.61.2] [REF-3] "Common Weakness Enumeration (CWE)". CWE-384 - Session Fixation. Draft. The MITRE Corporation. 2007. <http://cwe.mitre.org/data/definitions/384.html>.
[R.61.3] [REF-3] "Common Weakness Enumeration (CWE)". CWE-361 - Time and State. Draft. The MITRE Corporation. 2007. <http://cwe.mitre.org/data/definitions/361.html>.
+ Content History
CAPEC Content TeamThe MITRE Corporation2014-06-23Internal_CAPEC_Team
CAPEC Content TeamThe MITRE Corporation2017-05-01Updated Related_Attack_PatternsInternal
CAPEC Content TeamThe MITRE Corporation2017-08-04Updated Resources_RequiredInternal

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Page Last Updated or Reviewed: August 04, 2017