Man-In-The-Middle (MITM) Attacks
The internet gives all of its users countless benefits. The sea of information and resources it avails to its users is immensely vast. Thanks to the internet, people can now access information that was once in limited supply or totally out of reach. And, it isn’t just information that the internet bridges people to; It allows them to connect with other individuals anywhere around the globe.
The internet has proven its efficiency even in the world of business. Business owners find it to be an effective marketing tool. If effectively utilized, it promotes the user above the competition. With all of these benefits, it’s pretty easy to forget that the internet isn’t a perfect entity.
Security on the internet is not guaranteed; hackers and exploiters are always on their toes, looking for dubious means to jeopardize your working system. It would be in your best interest to stay ahead of the game. It would be best if you were highly concerned about a man-in-the-middle attack.
This article is an extensive guide that puts you through the definition of a MITM attack, how it works, and how to safeguard your system from a possible attack.
What Is a Man-in-the-Middle Attack?
The MITM attack disrupts the communication channel between two individuals: the sender and the recipient. In this attack, the middleman impersonates one of the original two parties, giving them access to shared information, regardless of how sensitive said information might be.
More than one individual can perform this attack. The aim of this attack is usually to steal information. However, the motive might be either due to financial or political reasons.
For example, let’s say government officials suspect citizens of engaging in illegal activity. They would employ cyber experts to intercept the citizens’ private communications and get evidence to acquit or prosecute them for the allegation. In this case, this attack is legal.
Hackers can use simple devices such as Bluetooth, mobile phones, and jammers to perform these operations. The only problem they might encounter is limited access to the network, especially if they are not geographically close to the network being intercepted.
Another downside is that these attacks are only limited to text messages (it would be impossible to fool two people who know each other’s voices, and there would be a noticeable time breach within the conversation).
Types of Man-in-the-Middle Attacks
Here are some of the most common types of MITM attacks:
In sidejacking, the hacker attempts to vandalize your browser cookies, and they often succeed. When a person enters a site, the browser automatically sends a session cookie to this website so it can save your details and let you access it next time.
The ever-active hacker will steal these cookies sent to the website and utilize the user privileges to gain access and control over your account. They would use your account to access the site’s features, and they can also use your account to commit illegal actions.
The worst part is that the original users of the account are not aware of this invasion, and they probably won’t realize it till a third party informs them. Often, your bank or email provider informs you of the cyber violation.
You must protect your system from side-jacking attacks; you can do this via two-factor authentication (2FA)on all your accounts and servers. The two-factor authentication feature will warrant login only when a one-time code-that has been sent as a text message- is provided. This way, unauthorized entrances are restricted; the only way it would be possible is if the hacker has access to your linked phone number.
The ARP attacks allow hackers to redirect incoming traffic on the user’s computer. To achieve this, they poison the ARP cache on the host. This means that the hacker is now in possession of all the traffic initially intended to land at the user’s computer. This makes the hacker a middleman between the user’s system and other networks.
With this attack, the hacker can steal and tweak all transmitted information over a Local Area Network (LAN). However, before they can attain this much power, they would first need access to another computer that has a direct connection to the system they intend to poison.
After that, these hackers send fake disclaimers indicating that they own any IP addresses that initially belonged to one of the parties involved. The other computers that receive this message proceed to update their ARP tables. When this happens, all the traffic intended for the original owner will be directed to the hacker instead.
The Session Hijacker
Hackers may have other motives for hacking your system via man-in-the-middle attacks aside from stealing your information.
Session hijacker attacks are usually aimed at stealing online sessions. However, the hacker needs your login details or any other information that allows them to access your browser tabs.
These hackers do not relent. They would do all it takes to gain control over your system, even if it means running malicious codes to monitor your connection, then lying in wait for you to log in, no matter how long it takes.
Once you enter your details into the login tab, the malware intercepts the process, copies the details, and logs in as if nothing happened. Often, you are clueless about the dubious activity occurring as you log in.
Mere phishing scams do not compare to session hijacker attacks because they can be run directly within your browser. Your security features against external attacks do not stand a chance of preventing them.
SSL Stripping Attacks
Another MITM attack you should be wary of is the SSL stripping attack. Here, it is your HTTPS connections that are in danger. The attacks strip the SSL layers covering them, and when this happens, they become open to eavesdropping. Hackers usually install an HTTPS site certificate on the computer, then redirect them to the compromised servers.
This only happens because of the way browsers handle certificates. For example, when you enter https://www.example.com/ on your tab, the browser first checks the previously saved certificates to see if the current one belongs to https://www.example.com/.
And if it doesn’t, there would be a popup error message, and the page would not load. However, if it matches and your computer is free of malware, there would be no error message.
Attackers visit phishing sites to maneuver their way into a user’s system. First, they try to get their login credentials one way or another, and when this fails, they usually proceed to install malicious software on the targeted computer.
Hacking is not precisely a hassle-free process. Attackers usually have difficulty pulling off some of these attacks, so they usually opt for the wireless option that is not so complicated. Wireless eavesdropping allows hackers to intercept the signal between the involved parties using an antenna.
People call this the ‘evil twin’ attack because users unknowingly connect to their hacker’s network, thinking they are connecting to theirs. Although wireless eavesdropping does not require physical presence, once the victim connects to the hackers’ computer, the hackers gain entry into the network and can collect any data transmitted.
Using encryption while accessing public networks is your best bet at preventing wireless eavesdropping attacks. Also, you must ensure that your devices are installed with the most recent antivirus software at all times- run updates all the time.
How to Prevent Man-in-the-Middle Attacks
#1: Use a VPN
A VPN provides you with the maximum amount of security against MITM attacks. It hides all your servers and then connects to the internet with a different location. How will your attackers attack if they can’t even find you? Hackers won’t be able to infiltrate your network or your incoming traffic because they would need to provide an encryption key. And this encryption key is a secret between you and your service provider.
#2: Update Your Devices Regularly
Hackers are always on the move, developing new attacking strategies daily. Therefore, it would be in your best interest to constantly equip yourself with the latest security features to outsmart all the ploys of these hackers. Laptops, smartphones, and tablets are most susceptible to these attacks because they are connected to the internet more than other devices.
#3. Use Multi-Factor Authentication
Using multifactor authentication is like adding extra layers of protection to your accounts. When the hacker successfully peels off one layer, he is met by another until he meets one that he cannot scratch and is forced to quit in frustration.
With two-factor authentication, only those you authorize entry can enter your accounts. This way, you are in complete control.
#4. Use Encryption
Encryption is voted the most effective way to protect your data during these MITM attacks. It is also quite efficient at preventing attacks altogether. With encryption, only the parties within the communication channel can decrypt the messages being transmitted.
Only authorized parties who have encryption keys can decrypt the messages. Symmetric keys and public/private keys are the most common encryption keys. Symmetric keys use single keys for transmitting messages. Public/private keys, on the other hand, have two keys for encrypting and decrypting messages, respectively.
#5. Block Changes to DNS Settings
Barring modifications to your DNS settings will help you avoid man-in-the-middle attacks. The internet’s phone book is DNS or Domain Name System. It is a service that converts IP addresses into domain names, such as 220.127.116.11, so you don’t have to memorize them all.
Hackers can capture any data you transmit on your browser (passwords and credit card details) that are not safe when they take control of your DNS settings and modify them to refer to a new server.
Find out whether there is a mechanism to limit changes to your DNS settings in your router’s settings to avoid this. If there isn’t, you might want to think about replacing your router or switching to one that includes this capability so that it can be quickly accessible when needed.