Man-In-The-Middle Attacks: Everything You Need to Know

Experienced cryptographic analyst is identifying a MAN-IN-THE-MIDDLE ATTACK. Information technology concept for computer network security and active eavesdropping via unencrypted Wi-Fi access
Man-in-the-Middle or MITM attacks are a common method hackers use to trick unsuspecting users into handing over data. Here’s how to protect yourself.

Once a hacker decides to make a break into a targeted system, there are several methods available to them to carryout the actual attack.

In almost every case of a cyberattack, the victim realizes that their system has been compromised and then calls in experts or an antivirus program to clear out the malware.

It is while analyzing these hacking events that the cybersecurity experts start assigning them official names to identify the kind of cyberattack mounted.

Man-in-the-Middle or MITM attack is one such common form of hacking. And it is not difficult to understand why it is being called so.

There is an individual lurking somewhere in the network directing the steps one after the other.

Its process is distinctively different from other types of cyberattacks in which malware is injected into a system where it takes over and executes the actions it has been programmed to do. This cannot be strictly called a MITM attack.

Some Typical Examples of MITM Attacks

One of the most frequently experienced MITM attacks occurs in banking fraud.

Someone who knows the bank you have your money parked in sends you an email as if they are an executive of the bank, then asking you to click on the link to reach your bank’s website and make changes or adjust your password.

But, as it turns out, the page you are taken to may not be of your bank at all. In fact, it has been created by the hacker to fool you.

You may end up entering your user ID and the password for operating your account and if you really have a large amount in that account, you can consider yourself divested of those funds.

Before you even realize, the hacker would have cleaned your account out using those details.

There are many other examples of the Man-in-the-Middle cyberattack. Even a simple case of eavesdropping on a chat you are having with another person or posing as if it is someone you know and stealing information can all be categorized as MITM attacks.

The hacker is impersonating the communications between one party so that they can trick the other into performing an action under falsely legitimate circumstances.

Types of MITM Attacks

As described above, the victim is spoofed into trusting the links sent by the hacker, and this spoofing can be through any of the different options that the hacker has.

One is to fake the website itself. Hackers are capable of creating a website which has the look and feel of a bank’s website or that of any other legitimate organization.

You have to be nursing a suspicion to spot that the site you are visiting is fake at that moment. Oftentimes, people would just go ahead and use the site and start giving out information asked for.

This kind of spoofing MITM attacks can be done with other ulterior motives as well. If you have state actors involved in hacking, where the group behind a cyberattack could be sponsored by a nation or government, then you can understand how spoofing is done.

lose-up of a browser window showing lock icon during SSL connection
SSL hijacking is another type of MITM attack perpetrated by hackers.

SSL hijacking is another type of MITM attack perpetrated by hackers. Here, you would trust your security setting which prevents any webpage that does not have a proper security certification from loading and hope you are visiting a safe page.

But clever hackers get around this by resorting to the use of a secure server so they can do what they set out to do—intercept the information you are sending out and stealing it.

Phishing emails is another very common form of attack that is similar to MITM attacks. But since many computer users have learnt to avoid opening such spam emails, here too, the hackers send you messages from email addresses stolen from banks or other institutions.

You will not know that the original sender of the email is not your bank at all.

But there are ways you can avoid becoming a victim of a Man-in-the-Middle cyberattack. Here are some tips:

  1. Check URLs for “HTTPS” and Not “HTTP”

Many sites you visit may have their URLs starting with HTTP, and if you have a strong antivirus software installed in your system, it will promptly warn you that the site you are about to visit is not secure and your system may be put to risk.

Most major browsers including Chrome, Firefox and Safari also support this protective security measure. You’ll see a padlock symbol to the left of your search bar to denote that the website you’re visiting is secure with HTTPS.

Even if you don’t get the warning, you need to spend just half a second to make sure it is a secure site with HTTPS in the URL.

  1. Beware of Emails Asking You to Change Your Password

As mentioned above, you may get emails purportedly from your bank asking you to log in and change your password.

Hackers have a way of convincing the unwary customer into implicitly obeying such instructions. You should avoid this.

If you have the time to reach out to the customer support team at your bank, just call them over the phone and check if such an email originated from them.

If you can’t do this, but you still wish to change your password, don’t use the link given in the email. Use the bank’s official website where you usually log in and do whatever you need to do. This way you stay safe.

  1. Don’t Use Public Wi-Fi Except via a VPN

This is not a new suggestion. Public places such as coffee shops and libraries often offer free Wi-Fi, and you may be attracted to use it to save on your data.

But security experts recommend that you avoid using your phone/tablet/laptop on those occasions because public networks are not secure enough to protect your data.

But then if you are struck in an airport or some other place and you have no other option, try to have a VPN service activated on your mobile device or laptop. That way, your data will be safe.

  1. Have a Good Antivirus Installed

A good antimalware program is a must-have for your system. It does not take long to find the best among several antivirus options available—and some are even free. But it may be prudent to pay a little to get a comprehensive package than to regret it later.

Hackers may continue to remain a step ahead, but failing to take the necessary precautions could be more detrimental to you than falling victim in spite of those precautions.

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