Man in the middle attack & how to prevent it
What is Man in the middle attack
A man in the middle (MITM) attack is a general term for when a perpetrator positions himself in a conversation between a user and an application, either to eavesdrop or to impersonate one of the parties, making it appear as if a normal exchange of information is underway.
The goal of an attack is to steal personal information, such as login credentials, account details, and credit card numbers. Targets are typically the users of financial applications, SaaS businesses, e-commerce sites, and other websites where logging in is required.
Information obtained during an attack could be used for many purposes, including identity theft, unapproved fund transfers, or an illicit password change.
Additionally, a man in the middle attack requires three players. There’s the victim is trying to communicate, and the man-in-the-middle, who is intercepting the victim’s communications. Critical to the scenario is that the victim isn’t aware of the MITM.
How does a Man In The Middle Attack work?
Let’s say you received an email that appeared to be from your bank, asking you to log in to your account to confirm your contact information. Then, you click on a link in the email received and are taken to what appears to be your bank’s website, where you log in and perform the requested task.
In such a scenario, the man in the middle (MITM) sent you the email, making it appear to be legitimate.
This attack also involves phishing, getting you to click on the email appearing to come from your bank.
Also, he created a website that looks just like your bank’s website, so you wouldn’t hesitate to enter your login credentials after clicking the link in the email. And the time you log in, you are not logging into your bank account, but you are handing over your credentials to the attacker.
Man In The Middle attack progression
Man In The Middle attacks come in two forms, one that involves physical proximity to the intended target, and another that involves malicious software, or malware.
Successful MITM execution has two distinct phases: interception and decryption.
The first step intercepts user traffic through the attacker’s network before it reaches its intended destination.
The most common (and simplest) way of doing this is a passive attack in which an attacker makes free, malicious WiFi hotspots available to the public. Typically named in a way that corresponds to their location, they aren’t password protected. Once a victim connects to such a hotspot, the attacker gains full visibility to any online data exchange.
When an attacker wishing to take a more active approach to interception, he may launch one of the following attacks:
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- IP spoofing involves an attacker disguising himself as an application by altering packet headers in an IP address. As a result, users attempting to access a URL connected to the application are sent to the attacker’s website.
- ARP spoofing is the process of linking an attacker’s MAC address with the IP address of a legitimate user on a local area network using fake ARP messages. As a result, data sent by the user to the host IP address is instead transmitted to the attacker.
- DNS spoofing, also known as DNS cache poisoning, involves infiltrating a DNS server and altering a website’s address record. As a result, users attempting to access the site are sent by the altered DNS record to the attacker’s site.
After an interception, any two-way SSL traffic needs to be decrypted without alerting the user or application. A number of methods exist to achieve this:
- HTTPS spoofing sends a phony certificate to the victim’s browser once the initial connection request to a secure site is made. It holds a digital thumbprint associated with the compromised application, which the browser verifies according to an existing list of trusted sites. The attacker is then able to access any data entered by the victim before it’s passed to the application.
- SSL hijacking occurs when an attacker passes forged authentication keys to both the user and the application during a TCP handshake. This sets up what appears to be a secure connection when, in fact, the man in the middle controls the entire session.
- SSL stripping downgrades an HTTPS connection to HTTP by intercepting the TLS authentication sent from the application to the user. The attacker sends an unencrypted version of the application’s site to the user while maintaining the secured session with the application. Meanwhile, the user’s entire session is visible to the attacker.
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Man in the middle attack prevention
Blocking MITM attacks requires several practical steps on the part of users, as well as a combination of encryption and verification methods for applications.
Also, with the amount of tools readily available to cybercriminals for carrying out Man In The Middle attacks, it makes sense to take steps to help protect your devices, your data.
- make sure you always visit website with the HTTPS
- Be wary of potential phishing emails from attackers asking you to update your password or any other login credentials. Instead of clicking on the link provided in the email, manually type the website address into your browser.
- Never connect to public WIFI routers directly, if possible a VPN encrypts your internet connection on public hotspots to protect the private data you send and receive while using public WIFI, like passwords or credit card information.
- Avoiding WIFI connections that aren’t password protected.
For website operators, secure communication protocols, including TLS and HTTPS, help mitigate spoofing attacks by robustly encrypting and authenticating transmitted data. Doing so prevents the interception of site traffic and blocks the decryption of sensitive data, such as authentication tokens.
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