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Hackers are using cookies to sidestep two-factor authentication

“Cookie stealing” is among the latest trends in cybercrimes that hackers are using to bypass credentials and access private databases, according to Sophos.

Typical security advice for organizations has been to move their most sensitive information to cloud services or to use multifactor authentication (MFA) as a safety means. However, bad actors have figured out how to swipe cookies connected to login details and replicate them to hack the active or recent web sessions of programs that are not commonly refreshed.

A large monitor displaying a security hacking breach warning.
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These hackers are able to exploit several different online tools and services, including browsers, web-based applications, web services, malware-infected emails, and ZIP files.

The most insidious aspect of this style of hacking is that cookies are so widely used that they can help nefarious users access systems even if safety protocols are in place. Sophos noted that the Emotet botnet is one such cookie-stealing malware that targets data in the Google Chrome browser, such as stored logins and payment card data, despite the browser’s affinity for encryption and multifactor authentication.

On a broader scale, cybercriminals can purchase stolen cookies data, such as credentials from underground marketplaces, the publication said. The login details for an Electronic Arts game developer ended up on a marketplace called Genesis, which was reportedly purchased by the extortion group Lapsus$. The group was able to replicate EA employee login credentials and ultimately gain access to the company’s networks, stealing 780 gigabytes of data. The group collected game and graphics engine source code details that they used to try to extort EA.

Similarly, Lapsus$ hacked the databases of Nvidia in March. Reports claimed the breach might have revealed the login information of more than 70,000 employees, in addition to 1TB of data from the company, including schematics, drivers, and firmware details. However, there is no word as to whether the hack was due to cookie stealing.

Other cookie-stealing opportunities might be easy to crack if they are software-as-a-service products, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Azure, or Slack. These can start with hackers having basic access but tricking users into downloading malware or sharing sensitive information. Such services tend to remain open and running persistently, meaning their cookies don’t expire often enough to have their protocols to be sound security-wise.

Sophos notes that users can regularly clear their cookies to maintain a better protocol; however, that means having to reauthenticate each time.

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