Man-in-the-middle attacks occur whenever the hacker’s modus operandi consists of intercepting the traffic that is being exchanged by several unsuspecting parties. It is a kind of a sniffing attack, otherwise known as eavesdropping. The last name describes MitM attacks the best because they imply the threat actor literally listening to conversations between two parties without authorization and/or their knowing.
It can be done in several ways: By gaining unauthorized access to a real network through various means,
Or by setting up a fake network and therefore having full control over it in the first place. One example of such a man-in-the-middle attack would be creating an “evil twin“ Wi-Fi hotspot as a honeypot trap to lure victims
According to the IBM 2018 Threat Report, man-in-the-middle attacks accounted for as much as 35% of all attempts to exploit inadvertent weaknesses:
The goals of this type of attack can vary quite greatly. It can be used to obtain personal information about an Internet user or even reroute an online banking transaction to a different account. Thus, MitM attacks are often very dangerous.
Most frequently, man-in-the-middle attacks include the attacker pretending to be one or even both parties that are having a conversation. It allows the perpetrator to deliberately change some or all transferred information in their interests.
It doesn’t have to be just some random hackers who conduct MitM attacks by compromising a wireless network at the local McDonalds’. There have been reports of government agencies such as the NSA doing essentially the same thing, though on a larger scale.
MitM attacks can have very nasty consequences, and that’s why it’s so important to know how not to let them harm you. The following tips will help you be safe against this type of cyberattack.
#1. Don’t tell too much about yourself on social media
In today’s world, some of us put crazy amounts of personal information on the Internet. If a cybercriminal wants to target a specific person with a man-in-the-middle attack, they can gather a lot of info by searching for their victim on social media. And if the victim posts photos of themselves having lunch at a certain café every day, it’s reasonable for the attacker to start probing that place’s Wi-Fi network.
While it can be argued that it’s best to avoid using social media at all or at least, switch to more privacy-oriented sites, for most people, it’s hardly viable for various reasons, including work.
Thus everyone has to be mindful of what information about themselves they put online. It’s a good idea to follow some simple tips for social media safety. Additionally, there’s a good rule of thumb: ask yourself if you would personally tell what you want to post online to a stranger you just met in the street. If your answer is “no way”, then don’t post this information
#2. Don’t fall for freebies
Free wireless Internet surely sounds nice when you are in a public place and otherwise will have to pay for mobile traffic. To be secure, however, is to restrict some of one’s heart’s desires.
Such public hotspots are some of the main targets for hackers who specialize in man-in-the-middle attacks. Traffic in such networks is often unprotected or protected insufficiently, making it easy to intercept.
So the right course of action here is to stay away from free public Wi-Fi if you value your safety and privacy.
#3. Be smart if you have to use a public hotspot
Okay, let’s say that it’s the matter of life and death for you to connect through a public (and probably poorly-protected) network. Sometimes, such situations happen, we’ve all been there.
So what can one do to protect themselves in case of it happening to them?
The only reliable way is to think ahead. Or, as the ancients put it, if you want peace (including that of mind), prepare for war.
It is possible to protect one’s mobile device by installing a VPN app on it. It will encrypt all the inbound and outbound traffic of that device and leave any hackers empty-handed. This app should meet certain criteria, such as to have the kill switch feature built into it to kill the device’s Internet connection if the VPN fails and the said connection becomes unprotected.
Another good idea is not to access your banking account via a public network, even with a VPN. The risk can be too great to take.
#4. Double-check all your incoming emails
MitM attacks are often carried out by infecting the victim’s computer with malware first. For instance, such malware can redirect an unsuspecting user from the real website of a bank to a spoofed one without the user noticing.
How does this malware get into the victim’s system?
Often enough, thanks to the victim’s ignorance. It usually goes something like this:
- the victim gets a scary email telling them to go to a linked web address, or else something bad will happen;
- the victim obliges;
- malware is now installed onto the victim’s system, allowing the hackers to intercept their communications.
To avoid it, it’s advisable not to click on any links that are sent to you by email if you don’t know with 100% certainty that the email is from a trusted source.
Attachments can carry malware, too. Obviously, it’s a bad idea to open and download them as well.