Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) Attack
What is a Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) Attack?
A Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) Attack is a cyberattack used by criminals to steal data by exploiting weak web-based protocols. The attacker inserts themselves between entities in a communication channel without either party being aware. They may use a bot to generate believable text messages, impersonate a person’s voice on a call, or even spoof an entire communication system to scrape data from participants’ devices.
Cybercriminals may target any business, organization, or individual if there is a possibility for financial gain through a Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) attack. Commonly targeted industries include banking applications, financial firms, healthcare systems, and businesses utilizing industrial networks of IoT devices. Forbes reports that small businesses are particularly vulnerable, with 43% of all cyberattacks targeting them. However, only 14% of small businesses have robust security measures to protect against these attacks. It’s essential to be aware of this attack and take all precautions to protect yourself and your business.
Types of Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) Attacks
Here are some types of Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) Attacks that exist.
1. Email Hijacking:
In this type of cyber attack, hackers seize control of email accounts belonging to banks, financial institutions, or other reputable organizations with access to sensitive information and funds. Once they have gained access, the attackers can monitor transactions and communications between the bank and its customers. In some cases, the hackers may even impersonate the bank’s email address and send customers messages requesting them to resend their login credentials or wire funds or payments to the attackers. Social engineering, which involves building trust with the victim, is a critical component for the success of this type of attack known as MITM.
2. Wi-Fi Eavesdropping:
It’s essential to be cautious when connecting to wireless networks, as cybercriminals may create fake networks with seemingly legitimate names. These networks could appear to be owned by a nearby business or have a harmless name like “Free Public Wi-Fi Network.” However, once connected, the attacker can monitor the user’s online activity and steal sensitive information like login credentials, credit card details, and payment information. To protect yourself from this attack, always verify the network you connect to and turn off the Wi-Fi auto-connect feature on your mobile device when moving around locally to avoid automatically connecting to a potentially malicious network.
3. DNS Spoofing:
A DNS hijacking attack happens when the DNS records are altered to redirect genuine online traffic to a fake website that looks like a trusted website. The attackers trick users into logging in to the fake website and persuade them to take a specific action, like paying a fee or transferring money to a particular account. The phony website allows attackers to steal as much data as possible from unsuspecting victims.
4. Session Hijacking:
A MITM attack involves an attacker waiting for a victim to log in to an application, such as banking or email, and then stealing the session cookie. The hacker then uses the session cookie to log in to the victim’s account from their browser. This attack aims to exploit sessions that identify users logged in to a website. However, attackers need to act quickly because sessions have an expiration, which could be as short as a few minutes.
5. Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) Hijacking:
Many websites today use “HTTPS” instead of “HTTP” in the URL (website address) displayed in the browser’s address bar to indicate that they have a secure server. HTTPS is a protocol used to establish security between networked computers. SSL and its successor, TLS, are protocols used for this purpose. However, SSL is an older and more vulnerable protocol, and attackers can intercept data passing between a server and a user’s computer through a process known as SSL hijacking. Therefore, its replacement is the more robust TLS protocol.
6. ARP Cache Poisoning:
In this scam, the cyber criminal deceives the victim’s computer by providing false information, making it believe that the fraudster’s computer is the network gateway. As a result, all network traffic from the victim’s computer is re-routed to the attacker’s computer instead of the actual network gateway. The attacker leverages this diverted traffic to examine and steal crucial information, including personally identifiable information (PII) saved in the browser.
7. IP Spoofing:
An attacker diverts internet traffic that was supposed to go to an actual website and sends it to a fake one. Instead of faking the DNS record of the real website, the attacker changes the IP address of the fake website to make it look like the IP address of the site that the user wants to visit.
8. Stealing Browser Cookies:
Attackers can steal browser cookies that contain sensitive personal information such as credit card and login information. They can use this information to impersonate the victim and gain access to their accounts. Users should always clear their browser cookies regularly to prevent this attack.
How Does a Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) Attack Work?
In the following example of a Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) attack, a basic work order is followed regardless of the techniques used or required:
– Person A sends a message to Person B.
– The MITM attacker intercepts the message without either Person A or Person B knowing.
– The MITM attacker alters or deletes the message content without either Person A or Person B knowing.
In computing terms, a MITM attack exploits network, web, or browser-based security protocol vulnerabilities to redirect legitimate traffic and steal information from unsuspecting victims.
Examples Of Man-In-The-Middle Attacks
Equifax experienced a man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack in 2017. This breach led to the exposure of 147 million customers’ financial data to criminals over a period of several months.
A flaw in a banking app used by Virgin Money, Nationwide, TSB, and The Co-Operative Bank allowed the theft of personal information and credentials, such as passwords and pin codes.
Man-in-the-middle attacks have been responsible for large-scale data breaches in 2021, including those of Cognyte, Twitch, LinkedIn, and Facebook.
MITM Threats on Individuals
Man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks may seem easy to identify due to their similarity to phishing or spoofing attacks that employees and users already recognize and prevent. However, cybercriminals are becoming more sophisticated, and detection must include a combination of human and technical protocols. Prevention is critical to mitigating all cyber threats.
To identify a MITM attack, watch out for unusual disconnections from services, as attackers could attempt to scrape usernames and passwords. Additionally, be wary of strange URLs, which may lead to spoofed websites that look identical to trusted ones and collect sensitive data. Avoid using public, unsecured Wi-Fi, as attackers can easily intercept and eavesdrop on messages and chats, even if sensitive data is not transmitted.
MITM Threats on Business and Enterprise
MITM attacks pose a significant threat to enterprises, particularly with the rise of remote work, IoT device vulnerability, and increased mobile device use. According to the 2023 Cybersecurity Almanac, Cybercrime expects to grow by 15% annually for the next three years, reaching $8 trillion globally this year and $10.5 trillion annually by 2025. These attacks collect personal credentials and may install malware through compromised software updates or unencrypted communication transmitted over insecure network connections by mobile devices.
How to Detect a Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) Attack?
To identify a MITM attack, watch out for the following:
Sporadic and Unpredictable disconnections from services and applications
Unusual disconnections from services, such as repeated sign-ins and sign-outs, are usually signs of one of these attacks. These could be attempts by attackers to scrape usernames and passwords.
Strange looking Websites
Cybercriminals will often present a spoofed site of a similarly designed legitimate site, such as Microsoft 365, banking sites, etc., which may look identical to trusted ones with login information. The spoofed site will collect sensitive data when this data is input into these forms. You may also notice that you are continually entering the correct information but are getting prompts that the information supplied is incorrect.
Avoid using public, unsecured Wi-Fi, as attackers can easily intercept and eavesdrop on messages and chats, even if sensitive data is not transmitted. Cybercriminals often present a ‘free’ unsecured Wi-Fi network with names like “Free Internet.” If these Wi-Fi signals look suspicious and don’t require a password to log in, this clearly indicates a Wi-Fi network signal that gathers all data sent on it.
How to Prevent Man-in-the-Middle Attacks?
To ensure your online safety, always connect to secure websites by looking for the padlock icon next to the address in the browser’s address bar. The padlock icon indicates that the website uses the HTTPS protocol. Additionally, use a free browser plugin to enforce this rule and restrict access to non-HTTPS sites through web filtering
To further strengthen your security, use strong passwords and a password manager. Policies deploy from MDM tools with a password policy that includes password length, complexity, aging, history/reuse rules, and maximum attempts before device wipe. Employing multi-factor authentication is also highly recommended.
Endpoint protection and antivirus software are crucial cybersecurity practices that internet users should not overlook. IT staff should ensure all patches are installed and security software is updated on employees’ devices.
Ensure to u
pdate and secure your home Wi-Fi router regularly since most work-from-home policies require employees to use their home network to access the corporate network. Set the router’s security settings to the strongest level (WPA3).
Use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) for connecting to the internet. A VPN encrypts the network connection, and encrypted traffic is harder to modify
, offering additional protection.
Enable end-to-end encryption for emails and other communication channels whenever possible. Use communication software that offers encryption from the start, like WhatsApp Messenger.
DNS traffic should be filtered and encrypted to maintain privacy and security. DNS over TLS (DoT) and DNS over HTTPS (DoH) encrypt DNS traffic to ensure the authenticity of the resolver.
Adopt the zero-trust philosophy, which requires continuous verification of all devices, users, and applications. Zero-trust prevents a Man-In-The-Middle (MITM) attack from starting or protecting an organization’s assets if a MITM attack is already underway.