Digitalization rules the modern era, and its technology works on networks, servers, devices, and connections. Perpetrators always look out to penetrate these digital communication channels where millions of sensitive data transfer, aiming to eavesdrop on the communications and misuse the data.
This blog is all about such intruders and their functioning. It also indicates the preventive measures you should take to prevent them from accessing your devices and networks.
What is a Man-in-the-Middle Attack (MITM)?
There are varied types of cyberattacks and man-in-the-middle attacks are one of them. In these attacks, the intruder positions themselves between two communicating parties, like two users, a browser/application, and a server, etc., and tries to grab information for fulfilling their malicious intentions. In many cases, the attacker tries to play foul on both sides for stealing the confidential data of both parties.
The attacker steals the login credentials or other sensitive data that the user’s browser sends to the server, and sends malware or compromised code to the user to corrupt their network.
The above image clearly shows how hackers become the mediator between the browser and the server to carry out MITM attacks.
MITM attacks are also termed as AITM (adversary-in-the-middle) attacks and these attacks are increasing daily.
All unsecured networks and remote workstations with security lapses are targets for these attacks. Therefore, employees and companies must understand the types of MITM attacks, recognize their symptoms, and know their preventive solutions.
Types of Man-in-the-Middle Attacks:
Each MITM attack shares the same motive, but attackers can execute them in different ways. Below-stated are some of the common types of man-in-the-middle attacks or MITM attacks that can damage your digital empire.
1. IP Spoofing:
Hackers do IP spoofing by hiding the true origin of IP packets and by creating a dummy IP address for imitating another device. Each device is connected to the internet with a unique IP address, and attackers spoof this IP address by portraying themselves as having legitimate devices. Thus, they trick the user into believing that they are the original party with whom the user is communicating.
2. ARP Spoofing:
Address Resolution Protocol (ARP) spoofing is a type of MITM spoofing attack wherein the hacker tricks the user’s device into sending messages to their (hacker’s) device instead of the intended recipient. In short, this spoofing sends the user’s communications to the hacker’s device, and it is done by matching the user’s IP address to the MAC (Media Access Control) address.
All the data sent by the user will reach the hacker, who can intercept the data and misuse it.
3. Session Hijacking:
In the session hijacking technique, the hacker tries to gain access to the user’s device/browsing session by using packet sniffers or by deploying malware to infect the user’s device.
This helps the hacker to intercept the user’s browser-server communications and access their confidential information. Once the hacker has gained access to the user’s device, they can hijack their finances, bank accounts, and other sensitive stuff, thus creating havoc.
4. Rogue Access Points:
A rogue access point, as the name states, is an access point that the hacker installs on the user’s network without their knowledge. This helps the hacker to connect to the user’s device and compromise their network traffic and information.
5. Wi-Fi Eavesdropping:
Hackers smartly pry networks by setting up their fake internet hotspots for public use for conducting an MITM attack.
They give it a legit name and place it inside a hotel, café, or any other workplace where they can eavesdrop on the user’s traffic. Users connect to this fake Wi-Fi thinking it to be the legit one, thus exposing their data unknowingly.
Such MITM attacks cannot be easily detected or prevented.
6. DNS (Domain Name System) Spoofing:
In this MITM attack, the attacker misguides the traffic by intercepting DNS requests. They use the DNS to direct the user’s traffic to their compromised website instead of the legit one. The user will see an identical but fake version of their desired site. When they punch in their sensitive details, the attackers can view them and misuse the same.
7. HTTPS Spoofing:
Genuine websites display HTTPS (hypertext transfer protocol secure) rather than HTTP (hypertext transfer protocol). This extra ‘s’ portrays security and indicates a secured and encrypted browser-server communication.
HTTPS spoofing in which, hackers register a domain name that is similar to the target domain name. It is identical to the legitimate ones. Hackers replaced the target domain’s characters with other non-ASCII characters. So they show very similar in appearance. They later try to change the traffic course to their website, just like DNS spoofing.”
The hacker uses a Trojan horse to successfully implement the man-in-the-browser attack. A trojan horse is installed on the user’s device to intercept and manipulate all online communications. The main motto of this attack is to cause financial damage by exploiting online banking transactions, and penetrating authentication layers.
The trojan horse attacks the browser communications by making space between the browser and its securities and by modifying the communications/transactions. Since each security mechanism functions properly, the user needs to be cautious enough and have a good anti-virus solution installed to prevent this MITM threat.
9. Email Hijacking:
For email hacking the hacker targets the user’s email account. The hacker comprises and acquires unauthorized access to the user’s email account generally by planning a phishing attack.
They target email communications carried out between banks and their clients and spoof the bank’s email address. They later send messages to users to obtain their login details and other sensitive details (credit card numbers, bank account numbers, passwords, etc.).
How to Prevent Man-in-the-Middle Attacks?
MITM attacks are difficult to trace since the hacker personates themselves at legit entities/parties while communicating with the users. Man-in-the-middle attack prevention is a difficult task, but not an impossible one. We have penned down some security practices which can help prevent these cyber threats and secure your organizations and networks. Check out the tips stated below.
MITM Attacks Prevention Tips
1. Educating Employees:
This is a vital solution to prevent MITM damage. Educate all the employees as well as remote workers about the MITM signs and their preventive solutions.
- Connect to a secured and encrypted router
- Modify the router’s default password to a strong and secure one.
- Check the site’s address
- Communicate on https sites only
- Pay heed to the security alerts
- Never use public Wi-Fi
- Keep your browser updated
Employees should follow these tips to keep their browsers and their communications secured against MITM threats.
2. Intrusion Detection:
Intrusion detection software like firewalls should be installed on the device for preventing MITM attacks. Networks should be regularly monitored for suspicious activities and penetration attacks.
Companies should ensure that all the remote devices are also loaded with strong intrusion security software for preventing MITM disasters.
3. Use a VPN (Virtual Private Network):
A VPN is an ideal solution to prevent MITM attacks, since these attacks are all about intercepting communications, modifying them, misusing them, spying on them, etc. But, when communications are encrypted they can’t be read even if they are assessed, since encrypted text is in cipher form which is non-readable to hackers.
A VPN functions exactly in the same way by encrypting all communications and network traffic, making it impossible for hackers to read or steal it. It even masks the user’s IP address, thus giving a tough time to hackers who may leave your network, for moving to easier targets.
Using VPN also ensures that the network traffic is routed via https (secured) sites only, which helps prevent MITM attacks.
4. Strong Authentication:
Passwords are the main targets of cyber criminals who find it easy to compromise for penetrating networks. Intruders gain complete access to systems without being detected in intrusion detection systems. Hence, it’s vital to use MFA (multi-factor authentication) to secure your network.
If one authentication method (password) is compromised, there are 2 or 3 more authentications the hacker needs to pass through before accessing the network.
Biometric authentication, OTP, PIN, etc., can be added for better security and prevention against MITM attacks.
5. Always Visit HTTPS Sites:
Data and communication on HTTPS sites are secured with encryption since they have an SSL (Secure Socket Layers) certificate. This prevents hackers from intercepting communications. It is necessary for site holders to buy an SSL certificate and install it on the server to offer a secure environment to users. Though cybercriminals resort to HTTPS spoofing or SSL striping to gain access to communications, you can prevent them by manually typing off-site URLs, checking trust icons like a padlock in the URL, etc.
When an MITM hacker redirects you to a non-secured site (HTTP), you can instantly check the site address and the padlock before submitting any details or communicating with trusted parties.”
Security against hacking attacks including MITM attacks is a grave issue that demands attention as well as prevention. Implementing the above-stated best practices and ensuring end-point network security can help prevent these attacks and ensure secure and safe communication between parties.
1. What prevents a man-in-the-middle attack?
Secure communication protocols, encryption, and proper authentication mechanisms help prevent man-in-the-middle attacks.
2. What are the three ways to prevent man-in-the-middle attacks?
a) Using strong encryption methods, like SSL/TLS for web traffic.
b) Implementing mutual authentication, where both parties verify each other.
c) Being cautious and verifying the authenticity of public keys and certificates.
3. What mitigation technique is most effective in preventing man-in-the-middle attacks?
The most effective mitigation technique is a combination of strong encryption (like SSL/TLS) and ensuring proper mutual authentication.
4. What causes man-in-the-middle attacks?
A man-in-the-middle attack occurs when an attacker intercepts or alters the communication between two parties without their knowledge, usually exploiting weak encryption, compromised keys, or lack of authentication.
5. What is a man-in-the-middle attack? Can it be prevented?
A man-in-the-middle (MitM) attack occurs when an attacker intercepts or alters the communication between two parties without their knowledge. Yes, it can be prevented using strong encryption, proper mutual authentication, and maintaining good cybersecurity practices.
6. How to prevent man-in-the-browser attacks?
a) Regularly update and patch browsers and operating systems.
b) Use a trusted antivirus and anti-malware solution.
c) Enable browser security features and settings.
d) Educate users about safe browsing habits and avoid suspicious downloads or links.
e) Utilize two-factor authentication for sensitive operations.
7. How to avoid man-in-the-middle attacks?
a) Use encryption protocols, such as SSL/TLS, for data transmission.
b) Always verify the authenticity of certificates and public keys.
c) Connect to known and trusted networks; avoid public Wi-Fi or use a VPN.
d) Keep software and systems up-to-date with the latest patches.
e) Educate users on the risks and signs of potential attacks.