There is no shortage of ways hackers get their hands on your sensitive data. And usually, when the industry catches up and patches the vulnerabilities, the hackers find others holes to exploit. It’s a never-ending cycle. And because computers are so sophisticated these days, the hackers come up with equally sophisticated types of hacks. I’ve already described what Phishing is. Today I want to cover another hacking method, one you may have heard a lot about recently: the Man In the Middle (or MITM) attack.
WHAT DOES “MAN IN THE MIDDLE” MEAN?
In very simple terms, it’s when an attacker places himself between you and a business (or another person), and intercepts the data going back and forth between the two of you, typically impersonating the business or other person. This type of attack occurs in both the real world and on the Internet. In the real world, it is usually accomplished through scam phone calls or letters that ultimately try to get you to hand over your money or credit card numbers. On the Internet, it is typically accomplished by using wifi routers.
According to the security experts at Kaspersky Lab, one way an attacker can facilitate such an attack is by setting up a malicious wifi router that looks legitimate. They could set up their laptop to look like a wifi hotspot, offering free wifi to people in busy places. Then, as people connect to their evil hotspot to get the free Internet access and access sensitive sites (e.g., banks, other accounts), the attacker can collect that user’s login credentials and use them to access their accounts at a later time.
Attackers can also use legitimate home or business wifi routers to facilitate a MITM attack by exploiting security holes in those routers. These security holes allow the attacker to hack into them and eavesdrop on the data transactions conducted over the router.
SO WHAT CAN YOU DO?
To avoid being a MITM victim, I advise you to never use public or open wifi to access the Internet. Many businesses, such as coffee shops and grocery stores, offer free, open wifi as a convenience to their customers. But it’s easy for hackers to exploit the open routers or to spoof the routers and set up additional, evil, hotspots that trick people into thinking it’s from a legitimate business. So if there’s a router out there that allows you to connect to the Internet without entering a password, just don’t do it.
If at some point you absolutely must connect to the Internet using open wifi, use a tool that forces a secure browsing connection IF THE OPTION IS AVAILABLE (not all sites offer secure connections). There are two browser plugins that you can use: HTTPS Everywhere and ForceTLS. These tools don’t guarantee a secure connection, but if the site you’re visiting allows secure connections, these tools will ensure they are enforced. You can tell your connection is secure if the “http” at the beginning of the site name has an “s” on the end (For example: https://www.google.com).