What is a Man in the Middle Attack?

What is a Man in the Middle Attack?

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Anshuman
Anshuman Singh
Senior Executive - Content
Updated on May 9, 2024 16:19 IST

The attacker catches and transmits communications between two parties who assume they are talking directly with one another in a man in the middle attack.

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This blog will go over the man in the middle attack in great detail. But before we get to that, let’s go over the topics listed under the table of contents (TOC) that we will cover in this blog:

What is a man in the middle attack? 

Man in the middle attack is a widespread cybersecurity attack that allows hackers to eavesdrop on two targets’ interactions. The attack occurs between two validly communicating hosts, allowing an attacker to “listen” in on a conversation that they should not usually be able to hear.

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Man in the middle attack is one of the most ancient types of cyberattacks. Since the early 1980s, computer scientists have been investigating methods to prevent threat actors from tampering with or eavesdropping on communications. A recent example was a bunch of Russian GRU agents trying to hack into the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) office by using a Wi-Fi spoofing device.

How do the man in the middle attack works?

We can divide the execution of a man in the middle attack into two stages: interception and decryption.

Interception: The first step intercepts user traffic before reaching its destination via the attacker’s network. The most common method is a passive attack in which an attacker provides free, malicious WiFi hotspots to the public. When a person connects to such a hotspot, the attacker gains clear visibility of any online data exchange. Attackers commonly use IP spoofing, ARP spoofing, and other methods.

Decryption: The attacker must intercept any two-way SSL traffic without notifying the user or application. HTTPS spoofing, SSL BEAST, and other techniques are standard techniques that an attacker uses to accomplish this.

Types of man in the middle attacks 

Some of the common types of man in the middle attacks are:

Wifi eavesdropping: It is a type of man in the middle attack in which unsuspecting victims are tricked into joining a malicious Wi-Fi network.

SSL stripping attacks: This is a form of cyberattack wherein attackers downgrade a web connection from HTTPS to HTTP.

Address Resolution Protocol (ARP) spoofing: It is a type of spoofing attack used by hackers to intercept data. An attacker carries out the ARP spoofing attack by deceiving one machine into exchanging texts with the hacker’s machine rather than the valid recipient.

DNS Spoofing: It is the process of poisoning DNS server entries to mislead a targeted user to a malicious site controlled by the attacker.

IP Spoofing: It is a type of malicious attack in which the threat actor conceals the trustworthy source of IP packets in order to make it challenging to determine where they originated.

E-mail hacking: It is a type of man in the middle attack in which the hacker compromises and gains access to a victim’s email account.

Session hijacking: It is a method of gaining control of a Web user session by secretly obtaining the session ID and impersonating the authorized user.

Real-life examples of man in the middle attack 

There have been numerous well-publicized man in the middle attacks in recent years, such as:

  • The Babington Plot was one of the first cases. Thomas Phelippes, a cryptography expert, intercepted, decoded, and modified conversations among Mary Stuart and her fellow conspirators.
  • In 2015, there was an adware program known as Superfish. This adware was pre-installed on Lenovo machines in 2014. It was scanning SSL traffic and installing fake certificates, allowing third-party eavesdroppers to intercept and redirect secure incoming traffic. The attackers were also using these forged certificates to insert advertisements into encrypted pages.
  • Equifax removed its apps from Google and Apple in 2017 following a data breach that leaked personal information. A researcher discovered that the app did not use HTTPS consistently, enabling intruders to eavesdrop as clients connected one’s accounts.
  • The British intelligence made a man in the middle attack against Nazi forces during WWII.

How to detect a man in the middle attack?

Without the proper precautions, detecting a man in the middle attack can be difficult if you are not actively looking for evidence that an attacker has compromised your online interactions. Verifying for correct page authentication and instituting spoofing detection are critical methods for detecting a potential attack, but these procedures may necessitate additional forensic analysis. You must pay close attention to a few things when browsing the web, most notably the URL in your URL bar.

The letter “HTTPS” in a website’s URL indicates that it is secure. If a URL lacks the “S” and reads as “HTTP,” it’s a dead giveaway that your connection isn’t secure. You can also search for an SSL logo to the left of the URL, which indicates a secure site. You should avoid attaching to public Wi-Fi networks. Cybercriminals frequently monitor public Wi-Fi networks and use them to launch man in the middle attacks. It’s best not to trust a public Wi-Fi network and avoid connecting to unrecognized Wi-Fi networks.

Verifying for correct page authentication and instituting spoofing detection are the key methods for detecting a potential attack, but these procedures may necessitate additional forensic analysis.

How to prevent man in the middle attacks? 

Here are some prevention techniques for avoiding man in the middle attacks on interactions:

VPN: When using a public computer to connect to the internet. VPNs encode your web communications and prevent attackers from reading your personal information, such as passcodes or bank account details.

Public key pair authentication: Public key pair authentication, such as RSA, ensures that the objects you communicate with are essentially the objects you want to communicate with.

Exit from sensitive websites: To avoid session hijacking, log out of websites as soon as you finish using them, such as an online banking website.

Safe browsing: Google Safe Browsing is a free service that guards website owners and users against malicious websites and downloads.

You can also explore – What is Safe Browsing & How to Turn It On?

Multi-factor authentication: To increase security and prevent attackers from performing malicious activity, you should use multi-factor authentication for all your passwords.

Intrusion detection system: In order to mitigate a man in the middle attack, you should safeguard your infrastructure with an intrusion detection system. And sys admins should practice good network hygiene, such as analyzing traffic patterns to identify unusual behavior.

You can also explore- What is an Intrusion Detection System (IDS)?

Antivirus: Use antivirus software to protect your devices from malware and thus prevent attackers from eavesdropping.

Firewall: To ensure secure internet connections, use a firewall that tracks incoming and outgoing network traffic and detects and prevents suspicious data packets based on predefined rules, allowing only genuine traffic to enter your private network.

You can also explore – What are the Different Types of Firewalls?

Conclusion

A man in the middle attack seeks to obtain confidential data such as bank account information, credit card numbers, or login credentials, which attackers can use to commit additional crimes such as identity theft or illegal fund transfers. Because man in the middle attacks occur in real-time, they frequently go undetected until it is too late. So, rather than being sorry, use the prevention techniques outlined above!

FAQs

Can a firewall protect against a man in the middle attack?

Yes, a web application firewall can protect your network from man in the middle attack.

Is encryption effective against man in the middle attack?

Encrypting the communication process is the most common way to prevent a man in the middle attack.

How can you avoid a man in the middle attack?

Various techniques, such as VPN, public key pair authentication, antivirus, firewall, and so on, can be used to prevent man in the middle attacks.

For what purpose does an attacker use the man in the middle attack?

An attacker uses man in the middle attack to eavesdrop or try to imitate one of the parties, giving the illusion that a regular sharing of information is taking place.

About the Author
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Anshuman Singh
Senior Executive - Content

Anshuman Singh is an accomplished content writer with over three years of experience specializing in cybersecurity, cloud computing, networking, and software testing. Known for his clear, concise, and informative wr... Read Full Bio