Man-in-the-Middle Attacks

What Are Man-in-the-Middle Attacks?

A Man-in-the-Middle (MiTM) attack is a cyberattack in which threat actors insert themselves into an existing conversation or data transfer between two parties. This eavesdropping technique enables attackers to intercept exchanges or impersonate the participants without detection covertly. MiTM attacks often steal confidential information and login credentials, spy on victims, sabotage communications, insert malware, and corrupt data.

How Man-in-the-Middle Attacks Work

MiTM cyberattacks involve a two-step process of data interception and decryption. 

1. Interception

In this stage, attackers intercept conversations or data transfers between two parties—typically a user and an application. User traffic is redirected through the attacker’s network, granting them complete visibility to online exchanges. Acting as a proxy, the threat actor can read or insert information into the communication without detection.  

2. Decryption

In the second step, attackers aim to decipher the intercepted traffic without alerting the user or application. Once decrypted, threat actors can carry out various malicious activities, including identity theft, password changes, and unauthorized fund transfers.

Types of Man-in-the-Middle Attacks

The various MiTM attacks enable threat actors to intercept and manipulate many communication exchanges and interconnected devices.  

IP and HTTP Spoofing

IP spoofing involves an IP address source of a website, email address, or device that is subtly altered to mask its malicious contents and trick users into sharing information. HTTP spoofing attacks trick users by redirecting the browser session to an unsecured website without the user’s knowledge or permission to steal confidential data.

ARP and DNS Cache Poisoning

Address Resolution Protocol (ARP) cache poisoning attacks inject false information into the local network and eavesdrop on all private traffic routing between two parties. With domain naming system (DNS) cache poisonings, threat actors corrupt the records in a DNS cache to redirect users to a malicious version of the site without their knowledge.

Wi-Fi Eavesdropping

In this MiTM attack, cybercriminals set up Wi-Fi connections with legitimate-sounding names. When users connect to the Wi-Fi, the attacker can monitor the user’s online activity and intercept login credentials, payment card information, and more.  

SSL Stripping

An SSL stripping attack downgrades a website from HTTPS to HTTP, making all communication unencrypted and visible to the attacker.

Session Hijacking

During session hijacking, attackers intercept and take control of a user’s active session to steal their data or passwords stored in the session cookie. The data is used to further identity theft, purchase items, or steal money from bank accounts.

Examples of Man-in-the-Middle Attacks

MiTM attacks can cause serious harm to organizations and the public.

A 2017 MiTM attack on Equifax resulted when threat actors exploited an HTTP error to intercept traffic to the Equifax servers. The attack compromised the sensitive information of 143 million American consumers.

In 2019, a Chinese venture capital firm and an Israeli startup faced a MiTM attack in which the cybercriminals stole about $1 million of startup funds. The perpetrators intercepted email communications between the two firms and rerouted the seed money for the startup to their accounts.

How to Detect and Prevent Man-in-the-Middle Attacks

Symptoms of MiTM attacks include repeated and unexpected disruption of any particular service in an organization’s network and abnormal website links being accessed. Organizations can monitor and protect their networks by implementing proper cybersecurity solutions.

Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA)

ZTNA ensures that all users and devices are constantly authenticated and authorized before entering a network and acquiring any resources. By reducing the possibility of cyber attackers accessing a network, ZTNA strengthens an organization’s security. 

Endpoint Security

Endpoint security protects devices—desktops, laptops, and smartphones—from various cyber threats. As MiTM attacks target IoT devices, employing detection and response systems, threat hunting, data safeguarding, and other endpoint security features is a vital and comprehensive security measure.

Security Awareness and Training

Creating robust security policies is a proactive way to prevent MiTM attacks from harming an organization. Organizations can reduce the likelihood of security risks by enhancing employees’ knowledge and understanding of cyber threats, phishing attacks, online safety, and other social engineering techniques.

Managed Detection and Response (MDR)

MDR solutions provide continuous monitoring, threat detection, and rapid response capabilities. This security measure reduces the impact and possibility of cyber attacks and strengthens an organization’s cyber defenses.

As a human-centric subscription-based 24x7x365 Managed XDR service, CylanceGUARD® provides the expertise and support businesses need to prevent and protect against ransomware attacks. CylanceGUARD combines the comprehensive expertise embodied by BlackBerry Cybersecurity Services with AI-based Endpoint Protection (EPP) through CylanceENDPOINT. In short, CylanceGUARD provides business with the people and technology needed to protect the enterprise from the modern threat landscape.