Nobody likes being taken for a fool. But that’s exactly what happens with man-in-the-middle attacks (MitMs).
While targets of MitMs are usually financial apps, SaaS businesses, or e-commerce sites, cybercriminals could attack any website that requests a login. So, anyone can be a victim.
Let’s find out more about this kind of cyber-attack and how you can stay away from it.
What Is a Man-in-the-Middle Attack?
A man-in-the-middle attack occurs when a cybercriminal hijacks communication between two parties to secretly eavesdrop or modify their traffic.
Experts revealed that only 13% of all businesses took MitMs precautions in 2020.
As one of the oldest forms of cyber-attack, MitMs aim to steal login credentials or personal information, spy on you, sabotage and corrupt communications. The details captured during an attack could be used for identity theft, unapproved fund transfers, or unauthorized password changes.
Man-in-the-middle attacks are facilitated by:
- Physical proximity to the intended target
- Malicious software or malware, leading to Man-in-the-Browser attacks
These MOs are old tricks that allow the cybercriminal to see the information you enter as you navigate the web.
Six Types of Man-in-the-Middle Attacks
MitM attackers operate in various ways. Here are the most common ones:
1. IP Spoofing
Data transmitted over the internet is broken into multiple packets. Each packet has a header mentioning the source IP address (aka the sender) and the destination IP address (the receiver).
IP spoofing occurs when the cyber-attacker gets disguised as a destination and modifies packet headers. This way, the user thinks they’re accessing a website, but they’re actually on the attacker’s website.
2. DNS Spoofing
DNS spoofing, also known as DNS cache poisoning, happens when attackers trick users into connecting to a fake DNS address that leads to a different website. For instance, you might think you’re accessing Google, but it’s just a replica of Google.
Again, the attacker captures your information, including the username and password you enter on the faked website.
3. HTTPS Spoofing
Attackers craft HTTPS websites that look like legitimate sites with valid authentication certificates. It’s just the URL is a bit different or has a typo.
The URL might look like https://www.apple.com, but the ‘a’ in “apple” is a Cyrillic “a.” This is a valid Unicode character that appears just like an Arabic “a” with a different Unicode value.
Unicode is a universal character encoding standard defining the way characters are represented in text files, web pages, and other documents. Unicode supports 1,000,000 characters from all languages around the world.
4. SSL Hijacking
Plenty of websites today are encrypted and secure. You can spot them by the HTTPS label in the address bar. With SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) hijacking, the attacker downgrades an HTTPS connection to HTTP. When victims connect to a server, the attacker intercepts the request and creates an independent, legitimate connection to the server through HTTPS protocol.
Thinking they’re communicating with the legitimate party, the victim continues typing information and sending it to the attacker.
5. Email Hijacking
Cybercriminals most often do this when they target email accounts of banks and other financial entities. Once they gain access, they can see company-customer information exchanges.
Then, they spoof the bank’s email address and send their own instructions to customers. As a result, customers may end up sending money to the attackers.
6. Wi-Fi Eavesdropping
MiTM attackers can set up Wi-Fi hotspots that seem legitimate. For instance, they use names similar to a nearby business.
When you connect to these fake Wi-Fi networks, the attacker monitors your online activity and captures information you enter, like credentials or payment card information.
The Warning Signs of a Man-in-the-Middle Attack
Just like plenty of other cybercrimes, man-in-the-middle attacks have become sophisticated over the past years. But there are still a few red flags you can pick up on. Here is what you should look out for:
Unexpected or Repeated Disconnections
Attackers forcibly disconnect users so they can grab the username and password when the user reconnects. Moreover, when sites seem to load longer than usual, it could be a sign you are redirected via DNS spoofing.
Try to monitor unexpected or repeated disconnections so that you can spot this potential risk.
If anything in the address looks odd, it could be a DNS hijack. For example, you see https:\\www.go0gle.com instead of https:\\www.google.com.
Moreover, if the site takes longer to load than usual, this could be because you’re being redirected via DNS spoofing to a different site.
Sudden Switches from HTTPS to HTTP
If you notice a website switches suddenly from HTTPS to HTTP, this could be a case of an HTTPS spoof attack. Additionally, it’s a good idea to double-check any weird details, such as buttons on a site that aren’t working or features that disappear.
How to Prevent a Man-in-the-Middle Attack
- Use a VPN to encrypt your connection, hide your IP address, and protect your digital life. What’s more, reliable VPNs also keep you safe when you use public Wi-Fi networks.
- Keep an eye out for phishing attempts. Read every email carefully, look for details that look out of place, and don’t click on any link!
- Make sure you keep your software up to date.
- Rely on a password manager to encrypt and protect your passwords. For example, with CyberGhost Password Manager, you can easily create strong passwords and store them safely.
- Use multi-factor authentication wherever available. Simply knowing your password alone won’t be enough for attackers to get access to your accounts.
Were you ever the victim of a MitM attack? What do you do today to protect yourself?
Let me know in the comments below.