What Is a Man-in-the-Middle Attack?

By Jayden Andrews. May 29, 2020

Did you know that hackers attack almost every 39 seconds daily? Cybercriminals are becoming more and more ingenious as days go by, which makes it vital to understand how to stay safe from their tricks.

One major and common hack performed by cybercriminals nowadays is the man-in-the-middle attack. Here, you’ll learn what this attack is, how it happens, and the best ways to prevent it effectively. So, read on.

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How a Man-in-the-Middle Attack Works

A man-in-the-middle attack refers to when hackers position themselves between you and the other communication party, be it an individual, an application, a website, or some other entity. The primary goal of such an attack is to steal your crucial information, such as credit card numbers, login credentials, and account details. Mostly, cybercriminals target the owners and clients of SaaS businesses, e-commerce sites, financial platforms, and major websites where login is needed.

Any information that cybercriminals collect during a man-in-the-middle attack can be used in different malicious ways like identity theft, unauthorized password changes, or even unapproved money transfers. A good example that’s equivalent to a man-in-the-middle attack is the mailman opening your bank statement and noting down the account details, then resealing the envelope before delivering it.

In 2015, different middle-sized and huge European companies were hacked by a group of cybercriminals and lost about €6 million in total. These cybercriminals accessed crucial corporate emails and requested money from many clients, pretending to be the companies. Therefore, hackers are extremely dangerous these days, and their actions can be highly unpredictable.

Types of Man-in-the-Middle Attacks

ARP Spoofing

ARP (Address Resolution Protocol) spoofing is mostly used to help hackers resolve IP addresses to MAC (Media Access Control) addresses in a certain local area network. So, when two hosts are communicating, using this technique allows the hacker to fake the identity of one of them. Therefore, when one user sends data to the host’s IP address, it’s received by the attacker instead. Doing this can enable a cybercriminal to get valuable information like your session tokens or even gain full access to some application accounts.

DNS Spoofing

DNS spoofing works in a way almost similar to ARP spoofing as it resolves domain names to specific IP addresses. When performing this attack, hackers usually try introducing some corrupt DNS cache information to a particular host to gain access to another host using their domain name. Doing that makes victims send sensitive details to a malicious site, thinking they are dealing with a trusted source.

Hackers who’ve already spoofed your IP address could easily do the same to your DNS by just resolving the DNS server to their unique addresses.

HTTPS Spoofing

When browsing, you always trust the site whose address starts with HTTPS, as it’s known to be a sign of guaranteed security. Attackers can fool you into believing that you are visiting a secure site when you’re actually being redirected to a malicious destination. If the cybercriminal redirects you successfully, all your activity will be monitored, and any crucial information you enter on this site can be easily stolen.

SSL Hijacking

SSL hijacking mostly occurs when an attacker fakes authentication keys that belong to you and the website you’re visiting during the TCP handshake. So, even if you visit an insecure site, the hacker redirects you to the secure one so you can trust it enough to provide your crucial information. That way, you think you are safe, but the man in the middle is controlling everything.

Email Hijacking

Cybercriminals are also known to attack emails belonging to banks, financial institutions, and large companies to see if they can steal any vital information. Hackers usually spy on transaction activities to get the perfect target. So, a hacker can easily determine when you make certain regular payments and replace the correct destination details with their account numbers. So, you think that you’ve made your payments successfully when you have just sent the cash to a hacker.

Wi-Fi Eavesdropping

Most man-in-the-middle attacks usually revolve around the use of the Wi-Fi eavesdropping trick, and many people have fallen into this trap over the years. How this works is as follows: a cybercriminal sets up a fake Wi-Fi name that sounds like the name of a nearby company to make it look legit; therefore, once you connect to this Wi-Fi network, the cybercriminal gains direct access to your device and can easily monitor your online activity and steal your login credentials or even mess with crucial files on your PC.

Stealing Your Browser Cookies

Browser cookies are tiny pieces of information that websites usually store on your PC. For instance, if you are shopping online, then the seller will save some of your info like the shopping cart items you select. That way, you won’t have to repeat the same process when you come back online. So, hackers can hijack these browser cookies to access the information they carry, which might include your passwords and addresses.

Man-In-The-Middle Attack Techniques

Sniffing

Sniffing refers to the use of unique tools to monitor and capture the packets going through a specific network. It is also referred to as wiretapping. So, for instance, if the switch ports on your company’s network are always open, then one employee can use an Ethernet cable or a wireless device to connect and sniff the entire traffic.

With sniffing tools, a hacker can see both protected and unprotected traffic. Also, cybercriminals can gather enough information to cause severe issues to the company or even perform more attacks in the future.

Packet Injection

This technique is very common in man-in-the-middle attacks, and it involves the injecting of malicious packets into the data stream. Doing this makes it easier for a hacker to disrupt or intercept some packets from established network connections. So, these packets won’t be easily detected by the victim, which allows the hacker to steal whatever information they want. Most cybercriminals first use the sniffing technique before applying this one. Why? Doing that enables the hacker to determine the best time to inject the network with malicious packets.

Session Hijacking

As the name suggests, this trick refers to session takeovers conducted by attackers. A session means the period you use a certain website from the time you logged in to when you log out. To hijack your session, the attacker needs a session ID. So, the hacker sends you a malicious link that, upon clicking, submits your session ID. With this ID, the cybercriminal can continue using the site without needing to log in, which can be very risky, especially when online financial accounts are involved. The hacker can also fool the website you were using that you’re still the one logged in.

SSL Stripping

SSL stripping mostly involves getting through the security enforced by HTTPS-enabled sites or SSL certificates. So, a hacker uses this trick to downgrade a site’s security from HTTPS to HTTP. Doing this exposes it to more risk, thus making it easier to attack it with data manipulation and eavesdropping.

Cybercriminals will use this trick to fool you into believing you are using a secure site and that the data you send is encrypted when, in reality, the connection is highly insecure. Therefore, attackers wait until you start using a certain site, then they kill that secure connection without you noticing. That way, it’s easier to steal your vital information in plain-text form.

How to Stay Safe From Man-in-the-Middle Attacks

Preventing a man-in-the-middle attack can be hard unless you are dedicated to doing whatever it takes to achieve maximum security before it’s too late. Two major tricks that you can use are regularly checking for stable page authentication and using a tamper detection tool. That way, you can easily tell when something is not adding up, which allows you to take early measures.

Man-in-the-middle attacks can be risky and may cost you a lot. Therefore, preventing them from occurring should be your top priority. Below are the best ways to help avoid being a victim of these attacks:

Have Strong Login Credentials

It’s crucial that you change your Wi-Fi and router login data as often as possible. If cybercriminals get your router login credentials, then they can easily change your default DNS servers to their malicious ones. That way, hackers can attack your devices without much hassle.

Use a VPN

Using a VPN is vital as it allows you to create a more secure environment when sending sensitive information. Also, a high-quality VPN uses key-based encryption. So, even if cybercriminals get on your network, they can’t decipher the VPN’s traffic, which makes it hard to attack you or steal your details.

Force HTTPS

As you know by now, HTTPS is always a sign of a secure connection. However, some sites usually offer an alternative to it, suggesting the usage of the HTTP connection, which provides little to no protection. You can install some browser plugins to help you ensure you always browse with HTTPS. That way, hackers will never get a chance to attack you.

Apply Public-Key Encryption

Most man-in-the-middle attacks revolve around deception. You can use a public-key algorithm such as RSA to avoid falling into this trap. This technique allows you to make sure you are communicating with the sites that you intended to deal with. That way, you can easily spot when a hacker has hijacked your session, which allows you to close the connection immediately.

In this rapidly evolving world, it’s vital that you know all the possible threats that you might face and how to solve them effectively. Man-in-the-middle attacks are among the most common hacks that you can experience today. Therefore, use the information in this article to understand what such attacks entail and how to stay safe from them.

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