Eliminating man-in-the-middle attacks

May 03, 2021//Ellen Neveux

Last Updated: June 17, 2021

Have you ever played monkey in the middle? You toss a ball back and forth with another person while a third player stands in between and tries to capture the ball from you and the other person. When the person in the middle intercepts the ball, they win, and that round of the game is over. A man-in-the-middle cyber attack is similar to this concept as it involves three players and as the name implies, involves a middle man that’s trying to intercept information sent between two connections. Let’s explore what a man-in-the-middle attack actually is, and then delve into how you can prevent bad actors from carrying out this type of attack.

 

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

A man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack is when an attacker intercepts communication between two parties who think they’re communicating with each other. The attacker will then either modify that information, use it for other attack purposes, or impersonate one of the parties at the end of a line of communication. 

If an attacker deploys a MITM attack to eavesdrop, the attacker makes connections with two victims, swapping faulty messages between them, all while they believe they’re talking directly to each other over a private connection. But they’re not – the attacker is controlling the entire interaction. The attacker goes about inserting himself as a man-in-the-middle by leveraging a wireless access point and might gain access to sensitive or personal data.

Hackers can also use MITM attacks to sit silently and observe communications between a user and an application to gain all kinds of personal and private information, such as login credentials, financial account information, or forms of PII. This could lead to the disruption of network systems, fraudulent wire transfers, or identity theft. MITM attackers can also intercept the information or connection sent between two parties and compromise it by rerouting it to phishing sites or encrypting malware into the connection. 

Because hackers disguise themselves as the endpoint in a line of communication, MITM attacks are difficult to spot. So what does this mean for your organization? How can you defend yourself against this kind of attack?

 

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

Man-in-the-middle attack prevention consists of two main ways you can secure your end-to-end communications:

Authentication:

Security starts with protecting access from the outside in. To help secure your endpoints and stop attacks, authentication will ensure that a message has come from a reputable source. With authentication, the source is verified and given authorization to send or receive communication. Strong authentication protocols and standards can confirm the security of the line and protect from bad actors trying to infiltrate the line of communication. This doubles down on ensuring you’ve got fully secured connections and lessens the chance of a MITM attack.

Detection:

With an effective platform in place that provides control over your IT systems, you’ll be able to set up rules and alerts for any suspicious activity. A standardized remote support platform can monitor this activity and systematically enforce security protocol in case something like a MITM attack occurs.  Plus, you can easily conduct audits to capture the who, what, when and why of all activity and receive automated connection notifications. All activity is mapped to individual users, so you’ll be able to detect any unauthorized activity – and outsiders won’t be able to get through your secure barrier.

 

When the man in the middle isn’t an attacker

So far we’ve talked about how MITM attacks are used to cause damage or exploit confidential information – and don’t get us wrong, most MITM attacks are hackers trying to break into a line of communication. But every once in a while, the men in the middle are purposeful – not dangerous – and can be used for good – not evil. For example, security systems that are required to monitor and record communication being passed back and forth between two parties use MITM tactics to gather the intel needed to perform their job. It’s very similar to when you call a customer service hotline; before you speak with someone, usually an automated voice will tell you “This call is being recorded for quality and training purposes.” Typically, no one wants their phone calls recorded. If you called your friend and your call was recorded without you knowing it, you would feel a severe violation of privacy. But when customer service lines record phone calls, it’s for the purpose of quality assurance and training – a purposeful reason to be in the middle of a phone call. So while most MITM attacks are from bad actors with malicious intent, similar tactics can be used for harmless and useful reasons. 

If you’re looking for an effective way to prevent pesky MITM attacks, request a demo from SecureLink. The SecureLink platform streamlines remote access with strict verification processes, such as multi-factor authentication and least privileged access, to ensure no one gets in the middle of connectivity. It also provides clear visibility and monitoring into network sessions from external remote users to clearly see who was connected, what they were doing, and why. When you think about the cost of a data breach compared to the cost of setting up a defense system against attacks like this, your business and your reputation will thank you for proactively protecting your network and systems from the tricky and villainous men in the middle.

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