Frequently Asked Question - What is a man in the middle attack? Identifying & Preventing From Man in the Middle Attack

In IT security, a man-in-the-middle attack (MITM), also known as a hijack attack is an attack where the attacker secretly relays and possibly alters the communications between two parties who believe that they are directly communicating with each other.

What is a man-in-the-middle attack

Attackers might use MitM attacks to steal login credentials or personal information, spy on the victim, or sabotage communications or corrupt data.

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. One example of a MITM attack is active eavesdropping, in which the attacker makes independent connections with the victims and relays messages between them to make them believe they are talking directly to each other over a private connection, when in fact the entire conversation is controlled by the attacker. A hacker can be in physical proximity or within the reception range of an unencrypted Wifi access point making it easier to insert themselves as a man-in-the-middle. Although encryption can be used to help prevent against MitM attacks, threat actors will often reroute traffic to fraudulent phishing sites or simply pass on traffic to its intended destination once harvested or recorded - making detecting these attacks extremely difficult.

MTIM attcks are not as prevalent as ransomware or phishing attacks, but they are an ever-present threat for organizations. MITM attacks can be prevented or detected by two means: authentication and tamper detection. Authentication provides some degree of certainty that a given message has come from a legitimate source. Tamper detection merely shows evidence that a message may have been altered. Guardian Digital protects clients against MitM and other complex exploits, implementing advanced email authentication to its fullest and safeguarding against phishing and fraud with multiple layers of purpose-driven security including real-time URL scanning and broad-type file analysis.

When you are browsing the web, you may have come across a website that has an SSL certificate warning message. This is because of the possibility of what is known as a man-in-the-middle attack. Let's take a look at what this means and why it is important.

A man-in-the-middle attack or MITM occurs when someone intercepts traffic between two systems without either system knowing about it. This type of attack can happen on any medium used to transmit information including but not limited to WiFi, phones, USB sticks, chat messages etc. If successful, they can gain access to sensitive data being sent over that channel which may include usernames, passwords etc.

Examples of Man in the Middle Attack

There are a few different ways to execute a MITM attack but one common way is to set up a fake Wi-Fi hotspot. When someone connects to this hotspot, the attacker can see all the traffic that passes through it. They can then decrypt and read any data they want, including passwords. This type of attack is known as a 'session hijacking' attack.

Another way an attacker can launch a MITM attack is by exploiting vulnerabilities in the SSL/TLS protocol. This is what causes the SSL certificate warning messages to appear. These vulnerabilities allow attackers to insert themselves between the two systems and spy on or change the data being sent.

Man-in-the-middle attacks are very serious because they allow an attacker to view all of your traffic without you knowing. This means that they can steal your usernames, passwords and other personal information. If this occurs on a network that is not encrypted by SSL/TLS then it will be possible to see every single thing you do on the internet.

This means that if someone manages to successfully launch a MITM attack against you, they may be able to gain access to sensitive data like usernames or passwords for banking websites which would allow them access to your finances.

Man-in-the-middle attacks are very serious and can affect anyone who uses any type of medium for transmitting information online whether it be WiFi, mobile security or USB stick etc. We should all stay vigilant and be aware of these types of attacks so that we can protect ourselves against them.

Identifying Man in the Middle Attack

- SSL warning message on your browser (mitmproxy or burp suite)

- Phishing attack (smishing) is an attempt to install malware via SMS(text message) by pretending to be someone they're not.

- Wifi scanning software like Kismet, Aircrack etc. can help you detect fake hotspots.

- SSLStrip is a tool that can be used to strip SSL from web traffic and make it readable by anyone.

- If you're not sure about the security of a website, check the Certificate Authority (CA) that has issued the certificate. The most reputable CA's are VeriSign, Thawte, GoDaddy and GeoTrust.

Prevention from Man in the Middle Attack

- Use a security tool like VPN, SSL or TOR. 

- Keep your Operating system and software updated at all times to try and avoid any vulnerabilities that may be present.  

- Educate yourself about the methods used for MITM attacks so you can recognize them and know what to do if one is detected.

- Only connect to secure networks (encrypted) when using the internet e.g.: WPA2, AES encryption etc.,

- Be wary of fake security messages from official institutions warning you of anti virus software etc., they're most likely phishing attempts from hackers who want to install malware on your device.

- Do not use public wifi networks as they are not encrypted and can be easily compromised by a MITM attack.

- Use a strong password and change it regularly.

- Install an anti virus software on your computer and keep it up to date.

- Install a firewall on your computer and keep it up to date.

- If you're not sure about the security of a website, check the Certificate Authority (CA) that has issued the certificate. The most reputable CA's are VeriSign, Thawte, GoDaddy and GeoTrust.

- Use 2 factor authentication when available. This is a process where you are asked to enter a second piece of information (usually a code) after you have entered your username and password. This makes it much harder for an attacker to gain access to your account even if they have obtained your login details.

- Enable strict transport security on your browser which will force all websites to use HTTPS (encrypted) connections.

Other FAQs