Man-In-The-Middle Attack

What is an MITM attack?

Learn Man-In-The-Middle Attack

Wendy Rodriguez

Man in the middle

Picture this: you’re having a conversation with a friend on the phone, someone you trust and tell your secrets to. Then you receive a response from your friend that has nothing to do with what you said; it makes no sense. You end up finding there is a third person eavesdropping on your conversation and modifying the messages without either of you two knowing, relaying the message they want back and forth. This man in the middle is attacking your privacy and making it difficult for you to move forward with your conversation with your friend.

This is a simple example of someone monitoring and altering something private, but in the cyber world, a man-in-the-middle attack infiltrates systems to change content, redirect users to dangerous sites, or gain access to precious information, causing damage along the way.

What is a man-in-the-middle attack?

A man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack is a type of cyberattack where the malicious actor secretly infiltrates, relays or alters the communication between two parties who believe they are communicating directly with each other. As a result, the attacker is able to intercept and/or modify any data exchanged between the two parties, without them being aware of it. MITM attacks can be very dangerous, as they can be used to steal sensitive data, such as passwords, credit card numbers, and account details, or could even redirect users to malicious websites where the attacker is waiting to take over their systems.

MITM attacks can be carried out in a variety of ways, but one of the most common methods is to create a fake Wi-Fi hotspot that has the same name as a legitimate hotspot. When a user connects to the fake hotspot, the attacker is able to intercept all of the traffic that is being sent between the user’s device and the internet. Another common method of carrying out MITM attacks is to use a proxy server, which acts as an intermediary between a client and a server.

These types of attacks are not as common as the more prominent phishing or ransomware, but as many as 35% of attacks in 2019 were related to exploitation attempts through MITM attacks.

How do man-in-the-middle attacks work?

MITM attacks can occur in various forms and target different types of communication, such as internet browsing, email, or hotspots. Attackers will do the following:

  • Interception: Attackers position themselves between the two parties trying to communicate, intercepting the data flowing between them. This can be done using various techniques such as eavesdropping on an unsecured Wi-Fi network, tampering with network hardware, or exploiting vulnerabilities in software or devices. Attackers might also impersonate one or both parties involved in the communication.

  • Decryption: Attackers capture the data being exchanged between the two parties, which is then decoded and manipulated without the users’ knowledge. The data might include sensitive information that could be stolen or altered, which could lead, for example, to the theft of financial assets or the injection of malicious code into a website.

MITM attacks can be sophisticated, and their success often depends on the attackers’ skills and the targeted systems’ vulnerabilities.

Types of man-in-the-middle attacks

MITM attacks can be executed using various techniques, such as the following:

  • ARP poisoning: Attackers manipulate the Address Resolution Protocol (ARP) to associate their MAC addresses with the IP addresses of legitimate devices on the network, causing traffic to be routed through their machines.

  • DNS spoofing: Attackers can manipulate the Domain Name System (DNS) to redirect users to fake websites that they control.

  • SSL stripping: Attackers force a downgrade from a secure (HTTPS) connection to an unencrypted (HTTP) connection, making it easier to intercept and alter data.

  • HTTP spoofing: Attackers attempt to deceive users into thinking they’re connecting to a secure website using HTTPS, when in reality, the connection is not secure or encrypted.

  • Man-in-the-browser: Attackers exploit vulnerabilities in web browsers in order to alter content, affect behavior and hijack information.

  • IP spoofing: Attackers create Internet Protocol (IP) packets with false source addresses to impersonate legitimate hosts, receiving each of the victims’ network packets and thus gaining access to private resources.

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Can a man-in-the-middle attack be identified?

It can be challenging, but recognizing an MITM attack is often a combination of technical and security measures, as well as due diligence. In the case where a user sees something out of the ordinary that catches their eye (it can be a banner, a pop-up window, a misspelling, or an unsolicited link), their best bet is to close all tabs and log off the internet connection. Disconnect from a network if its web browser doesn’t start with HTTPS. Run a thorough antivirus and anti-malware scan through the suspected software. If an attack happens in a known local network, the Wi-Fi password needs to be changed immediately and enable WPA3 encryption.

Organizations should have a proactive plan that enables their cybersecurity teams to act quickly since the data of their customers, employees, or partners might be compromised. Red teams in organizations can do a great job when specific objectives are set, and if the organization is serious about its security, they won’t sit back and wait for the attack, they implement security controls that can detect attacks, like MITM, and continuously search for weaknesses in IT systems.

How to mitigate and prevent a man-in-the-middle attack

Reducing the risks of an MITM attack requires joining security technical measures and best practices to protect communications and data privacy. Here are some tips to prevent or mitigate man-in-the-middle attacks:

  • Use HTTPS everywhere: Only use secure, encrypted HTTPS connections for web browsing and communication.

  • Verify SSL certificates: Always check for valid SSL certificates when accessing websites. If an SSL error or warning is encountered, do not proceed with the connection.

  • Implement certificate pinning: This is a security feature that enforces the use of specific SSL certificates for a particular website, making it more difficult for attackers to use fraudulent certificates.

  • Use a VPN: A Virtual Private Network (VPN) can encrypt internet traffic, making it more difficult for attackers to intercept data on unsafe networks, such as public Wi-Fi, which should be avoided at all times.

  • Regularly update software: Keep operating systems, software, and devices up to date with the latest security patches. It’s very easy for attackers to exploit outdated software.

  • Education is key: Training everyone involved to identify and understand the possible dangers online is imperative. Teaching them how to practice safe online behavior can them safeguard against attacks.

  • Secure email communication: Using email encryption tools, such as PGP or S/MIME, to protect privacy in email communication can go a long way.

  • Continuous monitoring and reporting: By proactively testing and strengthening their defenses and providing updated reports, organizations can more easily prevent,identify and mitigate MITM attacks.

Other best practices are recommended, like using strong passwords and enabling two-factor authentication (2FA) on all accounts, not sharing personal information online like home address or phone number, and staying informed on the latest cyber threats.

Fluid Attacks vs. man-in-the-middle attacks

Our Continuous Hacking can involve the simulation of real-world attack scenarios, including MITM attacks. By resorting to ethical hackers to mimic potential malicious acts, you can identify weaknesses and vulnerabilities in your network, systems, and applications that might be exploited by MITM attackers. Red team exercises test your incident response capabilities, allowing your organization to practice how it would respond to and mitigate MITM attacks, ensuring that security teams are well-prepared. Moreover, continuous security testing can encourage a security-conscious culture and raise awareness among everyone involved in the development process. Fluid Attacks is a go-to solution for organizations that take security as seriously as it ought to be taken. Don’t risk financial or reputational harm, and contact us to get started with the plan of your choosing.


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