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How a Man-In-The-Middle Cybersecurity Attack Works
How a Man-In-The-Middle Cybersecurity Attack Works
8/28/2017

In the world of IT and cyber security, there are constantly new terms, phrases and ideas floating around regarding attack methods. One such Internet based security risk is known as a man-in-the-middle cybersecurity attack. Every potential security breach and measure comes with different variables, each of which can play a dangerous role in infecting a corporate network. Understanding how a man-in-the-middle cybersecurity attack works, its functionality and how to defend against such an attack is vital to safeguarding any enterprise network. Due to the difficulty in these tasks, extra precautions are needed. 

What is a Man-In-The-Middle Cybersecurity Attack?

It is best to look at a man-in-the-middle cyber attack as an form of eavesdropping. It is where there is an entity located in between two communicating objects and the entity or technology catches the traffic and does something with the information it receives. It doesn't necessarily require any kind of technology (although frequently it does involved sophisticated technology) and this is also why it is one of the oldest forms of information sleuthing currently in use today. Third party individuals going through someone's mail before the final recipient obtains the mail is one form of manual intervention, for instance. The information "hacking" has continued into telecommunicating, with someone in the middle listening in on a conversation. Whether it is a government or someone's parent, the form of man-in-the-middle security breach not only is one of the oldest forms of gathering information, but it likely will continue on, long after other forms of cyber attacks have vanished or been eradicated. 

In terms of a man-in-the-middle cybersecurity attack, there are a few different variations and options for how it plays out. For the average consumer, this kind of attack generally occurs when using a free or public Wi-Fi location. As the Internet connection is not security protected, it becomes easier to place these "middle men" in between a user and the final website they wish to visit (or access point, depending on the nature of the architecture and environment). If, someone wants to access their PayPal account, they may attempt to bring up the financial page. An error message will appear, stating the website does not have the needed encryption certificate. This is a signal of a potentially falsified landing page. In this case, the middle man website is designed to look like the correct page, only when a user attempts to log in, they are actually inputting their information into the middle man page. The falsified server logs the consumer in and acts as if everything is fine, but in reality, it has just obtained all the needed log-in and financial information through this form of Internet eavesdropping. 

There are other ways someone can be on the bad end of a man-in-the-middle cybersecurity attack. While the open or free Wi-Fi is one of the easiest methods due to the lack of security, installing malware onto a user's computer is a possibility as well. However the attack occurs, it can quickly obtain nearly all financial, log-in and other contact information a user inputs into a website page, which has the potential of becoming especially devastating. 

How a Man-In-The-Middle Attack Affects an Enterprise

The vast majority of these attacks go after individual consumers and users. However, this does not mean such an attack will not occur with an enterprise network or large corporate server. In fact, it may prove more financial beneficial for such an attack to occur within an enterprise network, because of such an attack goes unnoticed, the cyber criminal may gain access to all sorts of information, ranging from user log-in data to customer financial information and credit card numbers. 

Malware slipping undetected onto a users computer within the network is one of the main culprits for this kind of a wider attack on the business network. It may go undetected as it does not instantly attack the system. It also is extremely small in size, giving it a better opportunity of slipping through filters in place to catch malicious content.  Once in place, the man-in-the-middle cybersecurity attack may position itself in front of cloud log-in pages. Going after cloud log-ins is beginning to occur more frequently as it may allow the attack to occur without any actual malware on the computer. Much like the open Wi-Fi attack, it just needs to position itself in between the user's computer and the cloud log-in.

DNS spoofing is another form of a man-in-the-middle cybersecurity attack that occurs at the enterprise level. With this, the middle man replaces a cache record of the different domain names with a false IP address. This false IP address may cause a user to land on a different, not desired website (designed by the attacker), which then could cause the attacker to siphon away additional information from the user. The SSL hijacking method is another form of this cybersecurity attack and essentially forges the encryption process at either the beginning or the end of accessing a secured website. The SSL information inserted into a network usually is easy to identify, so an updated security network shouldn't have any problem flagging this kind of malicious activity and preventing it from happening. However, out of date security networks may miss the latest implementations of an SSL hijacking. 

How to Avoid a Man-In-The-Middle Cybersecurity Attack?

Vigilance, in reality, is the best way to avoid this kind of attack. When a middle man inserts itself in between a user and a desired website, it able to do this because it replicates the SSID of the desired website (or cloud log-in) but boosts its signal, so the computer connects to the boosted, fake access point. In order to prevent this from happening a user needs to turn off the auto connect feature and instead manually connect. This way, it doesn't just go to the strongest signal. Additionally, it is necessary to look at the information listed in the url bar. Nearly all website requiring log-in information (banking, cloud servers, social media accounts and so on) use an encrypted HTTPS. If the page is only listed as "HTTP" there is a good chance it is a middle man page presenting itself as the accurate page. 

At the enterprise level, beyond just instructing users to practice vigilance when using the Internet and accessing cloud log-in pages, there are a handful of other available security measures. The first is to make sure security systems are up to date. This will eliminate most possible security threats. Also, in order to secure a DNS at the enterprise level (and prevent DNS spoofing), implementing DNSSEC and corresponding extensions adds additional levels of protection in order to cut down on these potential attacks. The malware and inserted files can be difficult to identify, which is why staying ahead of the security threats is a must. Using these methods significantly reduce the potential threat or impact of man-in-the-middle cybersecurity attack.

Cyber security risks abound, so protecting enterprise networks should remain a top priority of all IT professionals. With the continual evolution of Internet security threats, understanding how these risks work is of vital importance. This includes a man-in-the-middle cybersecurity attack. The particular attack method is one of the oldest still in existence, as it predates the modern computer. Despite this, a man-in-the-middle cybersecurity attack remains one of the most potent. All of this means network cybersecurity professionals need to remain extra vigilant in order to monitor, identify and prevent a man-in-the-middle cybersecurity attack.