A man-in-the-middle cyber attack occurs when a malicious participant enters a communication between two parties, impersonates both of them, and obtains access to the information that the two parties were attempting to communicate. The malevolent participant intercepts send, and receive data intended for someone else – or not intended to be transmitted at all – without either party realizing it until it’s too late.
Considering public Wi-Fi networks are often less secure than private Internet connections, they are more likely to be utilized during a man-in-the-middle assault. Criminals enter the fray by breaching the Internet router and checking for unpatched faults or other vulnerabilities. The next stage is to use different ways to intercept and decode the victim’s sent data. Financial sites, other sites that require a login, and any connection designed to be protected by a public or private key are the most vulnerable to a man-in-the-middle assault.
What Is a Man-in-the-Middle Attack?
As previously stated, a man-in-the-middle attack involves a malevolent actor inserting himself between two parties and gaining access to the information that the two parties were attempting to communicate.
A man-in-the-middle assault typically consists of two stages:
Attackers typically utilize unprotected or poorly secured Wi-Fi routers to gain access to a network. They can also tamper with DNS servers. Their purpose is to uncover weak passwords, although they may also use IP spoofing or cache poisoning to do this. Once they get access, they will harvest the victim’s data by deploying data capture tools.
During this step, the intercepted data is decoded and ready to be exploited for hackers’ illicit intentions, which might range from identity theft to simple interruption of business operations.
Types of Man-in-the-Middle Attacks
A man-in-the-middle assault can take various forms, but the most prevalent are as follows:
1. Internet Protocol (IP) spoofing
The Internet Protocol Address (IP) is a numerical designation provided to each device that connects to a computer network that communicates using the Internet Protocol. IP addresses serve two purposes: identification of hosts or network interfaces and location addressing. By faking an IT address, attackers fool you into thinking you’re talking with a trustworthy website or business, allowing them to obtain the information you’d normally keep to yourself.
2. HTTPS spoofing
The HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP) is the backbone of data transfer for the World Wide Web, allowing users to view hypertext texts that include hyperlinks to other sites. HTTPS indicates that a website is secure and trustworthy, but attackers can still discover methods to trick your browser into thinking a website is safe, even if it isn’t.
3. DNS Hijack
The Domain Name System (DNS) is a hierarchical and decentralized naming system for computers, services, and other Internet-connected entities that transforms more easily recalled domain names into the numerical IP addresses required for localization and identification. An attacker will use DNS spoofing to divert traffic to a bogus website to steal your credentials.
4. SSL spoofing
SSL (Secure Sockets Layers) is a sort of technology that establishes encrypted connections between your browser and the webserver. When you connect to a secure server (as provided by HTTPS), you expect established security mechanisms to be in place, safeguarding any data transferred between it and your devices. When SSL is hijacked, the information exchanged between the victim’s device and the server is intercepted by another endpoint and a different secure server.
5. Email spoofing
E-mail hijacking is a sort of man-in-the-middle attack used by hackers to target banks’ or other financial institutions’ email accounts. All transactions between an institution and its clients can be monitored once they have access. What’s more worrisome is that the clients would obey the attackers’ instructions while believing they are carrying out routine financial procedures.
6. Theft of browser cookies
Cookies are little pieces of information that websites record on your devices, such as the things you add to an online store’s basket or your address information. Cybercriminals can gain passwords and other forms of private data by stealing cookies from your browsing sessions.
7. Wireless eavesdropping
This form of man-in-the-middle assault is extremely dangerous: hackers may set up Wi-Fi networks that appear authentic, practically identical to ones you’re already familiar with. If users connect to them, they can essentially say goodbye to their online privacy: the hackers would have access to their whole online activity (including login passwords and credit card information).
Famous Man-in-the-Middle Examples
a. The Marconi Case
The first reported man-in-the-middle assault in history occurred long before the Internet was ever formed, and it features Guglielmo Marconi, a Nobel laureate who is widely regarded as the creator of the radio. What transpired? When Professor Fleming, Marconi’s legal advisor, was demonstrating wireless transmission from one area to another, a Mr Maskelyne intercepted the message that was meant to be sent from Cornwall to the Royal Institute and then communicated his message.
b. Interceptions During World War II
Several years after the Marconi case, during World War II, British intelligence staged man-in-the-middle strikes against Nazi forces. Operators of Aspidistra (a British medium-wave radio station) used to send bogus messages to German listeners to demoralize them.
c. The Lenovo Incident
Closer to home, since December 2014, Lenovo endpoints have had pre-installed software called Superfish Visual Search that allows advertisements to be placed even on encrypted pages. Thanks to a February 2015 Microsoft update, the spyware may have been deleted by Windows Defender.
A man-in-the-middle assault is risky. End users might go about their business for days or even weeks without realizing anything is amiss. As a result, it’s nearly impossible to tell what data was exposed to malevolent individuals during that period. Finding out more about what transpired frequently necessitates a thorough understanding of the internet, or mobile communication protocol, as well as security standards. Fortunately, there are several precautions you may take to keep yourself safe.
How to Prevent a Man-in-the-Middle Attack
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) connects a private network to a public network, allowing users to send and receive data as if their devices were directly linked to the private network. VPN connections may conceal your IP address by routing it through a private server, which is very effective for thwarting a man-in-the-middle attack. Furthermore, they may encrypt data while it is being transferred over the Internet.
2. Only visit websites that use HTTPS.
By encrypting data, HTTPS websites prevent intruders from intercepting conversations.
Instead of depending on links, physically inputting the site address is a great way to avoid HTTPS spoofing.
You may also see if the URL you wish to visit starts with ‘HTTPS://’ or has a lock symbol, indicating that it is safe.
3. Be wary of phishing frauds.
Regarding phishing safeguards, we have a lot of advice for you.
– Double-check your grammar and punctuation. Suspicious e-mails may have bad language or punctuation, or they may have an illogical flow of text.
– Keep in mind that reputable banks would never request crucial information over e-mail. Any e-mails that require you to submit or verify personal information or bank/credit card information should raise a red signal.
– Pay close attention to ominous e-mail content and communications in which you are informed that one of your accounts has been hacked, that your account has expired, or other serious concerns that may cause fear. Act right now!
– Don’t be swayed by looming deadlines. These e-mails often direct visitors to data harvesting websites, where sensitive personal or financial information is taken.
– Be wary of abbreviated URLs. Because they do not display the true name of a website, they are ideal for tricking consumers into clicking. Get in the habit of hovering your cursor over shortened links to view the target site.
4. Use strong router passwords.
Check that not just your Wi-Fi password but also your router credentials have been updated. If an attacker discovers these credentials, they can be used to change your DNS servers to their malicious ones or infect your router with malware.
5. Ensure that your organization has a software update policy in place.
Because up-to-date systems have all current security fixes for known problems, a software update policy can help you close possible access points for a man-in-the-middle attack. The same is true for any routers or IoT devices linked to your network.
6. Adopt a security strategy based on zero trust.
Although it may appear to be overkill, asking your coworkers to identify themselves each time they connect to your network, regardless of where they are, will make it more difficult for hackers to pose as someone else. They would have to authenticate their identity before being able to access the network in the first place.
7. Prevent cookie theft
Saving passwords in computer browsers or keeping credit card information on shopping websites may save you time, but it also increases your vulnerability to hackers. You should strive to avoid saving sensitive information on websites and get in the habit of clearing your cookies regularly. If you’re using Chrome, go to History > Clear Browsing History and check the box next to “Cookies and other site data.”
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