Identity-based cyber-attacks come in many forms and pose numerous risks for any organisation. One of the most common facilitators of identity-based cyber attacks is a man-in-the-middle attack (MITM). Here, it is difficult to differentiate between a legitimate user and a hacker with stolen credentials. Hence the need for organisations and individuals to invest in man-in-the-middle attack prevention measures.
What Is a Man-in-the-Middle Attack?
A man-in-the-middle attack (MITM)is a cybersecurity attack where a hacker intercepts communication between two parties. The attacks usually begin with the hacker intercepting legitimate communication between two parties before decrypting the information acquired. Stealing personal information and data from unsuspecting individuals and businesses is the reason for every MITM attack.
The hackers can steal login credentials and bank account details from a user’s device or even direct the user to a fake website. The intruder can use the information obtained during MITM attacks for identity theft, illegal fund transfers, or an unapproved password change.
The MITM attack consists of two phases:
Interception is the stage the cybercriminal cuts off information flow before it reaches its intended destination.
The decryption phase is where the stolen data is decoded and decrypted to ensure the users can’t tell that there is a hacker in the middle of their communication.
Types of Man-in-the-Middle Attacks
MITM attacks happen in several ways we will see below.
1. ARP Spoofing
Address Resolution Protocol (ARP) spoofing is a technique where an attacker’s MAC address is connected to the IP address of a legitimate website or user. When the URL is resolved to the victim’s MAC address, the traffic is redirected to the attacking server.
2. ICMP Packet Spoofing
ICMP is a portion of the internet protocol suite that is responsible for sending diagnostic information from one server to a client. When an ICMP MITM attack occurs, traffic redirects to the attacker’s device before the hacker sends it to the intended recipient. As a result, ICMP spoofing allows the attacker to manipulate the data communication streams as desired.
3. DNS Spoofing
DNS spoofing refers to a type of MITM attack where a hacker alters the website address to impersonate the original. The End-result is the legitimate website URL resolved to an IP address of the hacker. The intruder then uses the fake website impersonating the original DNS server, to engage the unsuspecting victims.
4. Wi-Fi Eavesdropping
Wi-Fi eavesdropping is also called the Evil Twin attack. These MITM attacks work to help hackers trick users into connecting to malicious wireless access points that resemble legitimate Wi-Fi connections.
The hacker lets you connect to a Wi-Fi hotspot with a similar name as your organisation’s Wi-Fi, which in turn provides the attacker access to sensitive information transmitted over the network connection.
5. HTTPS Sniffing
HTTPS sniffing is the kind of MITM attack where a secure HTTPS link is replaced with an unsecured one. The attacker maintains a connection with the client while establishing a middle-man HTTPS connection with the server. With this kind of intrusion, the attacker can access sensitive data while appearing on the server as a secure HTTPS channel.
6. SSL Session Hijacking
SSL session hijacking is when an attacker sends a fake HTTPS certificate to a user, making them believe it is secure. MITM attackers send fake authentication keys to both the user and the server during a TCP handshake, which results in what seems to be a validated secure socket layer.
7. Email Hijacking
Email hijacking is another man-in-the-middle attack where a hacker accesses a user’s email through phishing. With this level of access, they can change passwords and bank details or even demand payment without hindrance. And if your email is part of your login credentials, the attacker can access your actual bank’s website and hijack your account without a problem.
8. Session Hijacking
You use a session token to confirm your identity every time you log in to an account, and it continues to do so until the token expires or you log out. Session hijacking allows an attacker to bypass all required authentication procedures posing as the legitimate user by hijacking the token.
Man-in-the-Middle Attack Prevention Best Practices
The following are the best man-in-the-middle attack prevention practices to help your organisation.
1. Use Secure Communication Protocols
According to January 2022 Google transparency report, the majority of websites on the web today use HTTPS. It is important to ensure that measures are put in place to prevent MITM attacks. Man-in-the-middle techniques such as HTTPS spoofing bring to attention the fact that enabling HTTPS on pages that require authentication is not enough to prevent attacks.
Organisations need to configure HTTP strict transport security (HSTS), which has policies mandating the use of SSL in subdomains. HSTS enables servers to block unsecured connections, making attacks such as SSL stripping impossible. Additionally, implementing DNS over HTTPS makes it difficult for attackers to gain access to important company information.
2. Set Up Virtual Private Networks (VPNs)
HTTPS is not enough because it offers encryption only between the web server and the browser. However, a virtual private network (VPN) encrypts all the traffic flowing between the browser and the VPN servers. With VPNs, organisations lessen the chances of any MITM attack.
3. Implement a Certificate Management System
An enterprise network usually hosts thousands of certificates. Therefore having manual monitoring of the certificate management system is susceptible to human error. An automated certificate management system is the best option to prevent MITM attacks. The automated system monitors and maintains the lifecycle of all the digital x.509 certificates (SSL certificates) within an organisation’s system. Additionally, the system provides intuitive ways of accessing the certificates and sends an alert when any of them are about to expire.
4. Ensure the Right Tools & Processes Are in Place
An array of tools are needed to stop MITM attacks against any organisation. Some of these tools include:
I) Intrusion Detection and Prevention System
A managed detection and response tool is used to monitor incoming and outgoing traffic for any suspicious activity.
II) Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)
Multi-factor authentication (MFA) solutions are commonly used to enter critical servers. With Multi-factor authentication (MFA), a user will need more than a username and password to access a server or an application. Additionally, the user has to pass through fingerprint scanning or an OTP sent to a separate device.
Firewalls are essential in taming attacks and maintaining secure connections. They are referred to as the gatekeepers of many networks.
IV) Antivirus and Antimalware
These are very important and needed for the protection of every device.
5. Make Sure All Servers & Systems Are Configured
Configuring the TLS at a high level is not enough. Ensuring that every piece of content on a website is secure is a better MITM attack prevention measure. For instance, uploading a single image over an unencrypted HTTP can open opportunities for a MITM attack.
Ensure that server configurations and reconfiguration follow up-to-date guidelines for algorithms and protocols. Additionally, ensure that you regularly revisit these settings and guidelines to identify vulnerabilities in good time.
6. Set Up a Robust Patch Management System
A patch management system is very necessary for preventing attacks. Cybercriminals count on the vulnerabilities of organisations and users without up-to-date systems. It is important to have a patch management system that can help plug discovered vulnerabilities.
7. Use S/MIME to Prevent Email Hijacking
Secure/Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (S/MIME) encrypt emails allowing senders to sign emails using a digital certificate. The certificate is not identical to any other, marking the authenticity of every sender easy to determine.
8. Follow Appropriate Network Security Measures
A well-oiled organisation has a properly thought-out network monitoring system that offers maximum visibility to administrators. Good network security implements network segmentation to ensure that issues in one area do not affect another. This kind of system minimises the possibility of a whole system crashing all at once.
9. Create Corporate Security Policies with MITM Prevention in Mind
To minimise data breaches and man-in-the-middle attacks such as HTTPS spoofing, an organisation must have strong corporate security policies. Ensure that all the devices your employees use enforce HTTPS in all their connections.
10. Educate Users
Educating your employers will go a long way in ensuring they know how to prevent MITM attacks. Particularly remote workers who may rely more on your network need to undergo effective cyber security awareness training. Some of the guidelines you can use to educate your employers are:
- Teach them to avoid using public Wi-Fi
- They should never ignore browser warnings indicating an unsecured connection
- They must sign out of applications to prevent session hijacking
- Be keen on the kind of URLs you are using
Understanding the need for reliable man-in-the-middle attack prevention is essential for any organisation. MITM attacks are common today because attackers devise new attacks at every available opportunity. Therefore, every organisation ought to have prevention measures put in place to prevent MITM attacks from happening. Invest in solutions such as endpoint security to ensure that your organisation’s network and sensitive information are well-guarded.
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