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What Is A Man-in-the-Middle Attack (MitM)?

What Is A Man-in-the-Middle Attack (MitM)?

Businesses are susceptible to an array of new cyber threats, but man-in-the-middle (MitM) attacks are still among the most common. MitM attacks occur when threat actors successfully intercept digital communications and alter their content. While detecting MitM threats as they happen can be difficult, the incidents are preventable.

Criminal hackers initiate MitM attacks by gaining access to login credentials or personal information to illegally surveil the private communications of their victims. Once access is gained, and a victim’s details are visible, the next step usually entails an act of sabotage on the information exchange, maliciously corrupting data, or some combination of the two.

MitM attacks are typically financially motivated but may include other objectives like espionage. The goal is to spy on business leaders, whether an individual or a group, to ultimately undermine communications so the attacker can redirect resources and funds. Most companies feel confident that encryption can protect against criminals intent on carrying out a MitM attack. Skillful threat actors, however, have figured out tactically reroute traffic to phishing sites that present themselves as identical to the legitimate domain. Accordingly, detecting an attack, as it takes place in real-time, is tremendously difficult.

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

MitM threats have been around for some time and account for one of the oldest types of cyber threats. Programmers and engineers have been working to prevent eavesdropping on digital communications for at least the past three decades.

MitM incidents occur when an authorized subject sits between two unwitting parties interfacing through some form of digital transmission. The threat actor, after observing the nature of the exchange, then begins manipulating traffic. One way to go about this is by disrupting legitimate networks. Alternately, criminal hackers may generate a fake network over which they have complete control.

Once traffic is compromised, the communications cease to be encrypted. At this stage, attackers reroute traffic to a phishing site that bears a close, if not identical, semblance to a legitimate site the victim is already accustomed to using. Subsequently, the attack continues undetected while the attacker proceeds to spy upon the target and re-encrypt intercepted traffic.

Several MitM attack strategies exist. As such, there is a veritable range of prospective outcomes, each dependent upon the victim and the goal of the attacker. Man-in-the-middle attacks are often more broadly referred to as session hacks. The most commonly deployed techniques include:

  • Sniffing – This tactic deploys software to intercept (“sniff”) information transmitted from the victim’s device.
  • Sidejacking – A slightly more advanced technique, attackers use software to steal session cookies and take over a user session after encountering encrypted login credentials.
  • Evil Twin – Attackers target and then replicate a wifi network to trick users into signing on to the false network. They will then intercept data from users who believe they are signed on the legitimate network.

For obvious reasons, the primary targets for MitM attacks are financial institutions. Attackers look for users within a company who are authorized to make transfers. Threat actors hone in on transmissions these employees engage to eventually alter account numbers and possibly even the amount being remitted. Man-in-the-middle threats represent some of the most common types of attacks on banks because they’re so effective at harvesting sensitive data and private user login credentials. Criminal hackers look for poorly secured updates to install malware that is sent to the web application in place of the intended update.

Threat actors now automate many MitM attacks, making them difficult to defend. Automated tools scan network systems seeking passwords they can write into a file. Similarly, the automation software looks for download requests. The program then acts on them and sends malicious traffic back to the user. Proximity to wifi networks is no longer required either. Criminal hackers remotely target routing protocols to corrupt them and reroute IP addresses to instigate a MitM.

Preventing man-in-the-middle attacks

One of the most reliable ways to prevent MitM attacks or mitigate any harm is by partnering with a reputable managed IT service provider. PCH Technologies offers award-winning managed IT services coupled with years of advanced cybersecurity experience. Their Senior technicians can perform an analysis of your system to ensure it conforms to a secure software development lifecycle.

By and large, secure and up-to-date software, along with regular manual penetration testing, account for two of the best techniques to help protect your network against MitM threat actors. Avoiding public wifi networks, using two-factor authentication, and following warning notices from browsers that indicate sites may be illegitimate go far in securing your organization’s data as well.

Closing words

If you’re concerned about exposure man-in-the-middle attacks, PCH Technologies offers the most advanced solutions on the market today. Call 844-754-7500 now to speak with a dedicated Client Success Manager who will work to resolve your company’s cybersecurity solutions from start to finish.