Man-in-the-Middle Attack – What is It and How Can a VPN Provide Protection?
A Man-in-the-Middle or MITM attack is when a hacker taps into the information traveling between you and the server you’re trying to connect to.
Whether you’re trying to make a financial transaction or are video calling your mom, with MITM, a hacker can see exactly what you’re doing. Thankfully, with a VPN you can encrypt your traffic so any third party intercepting your data will not be able to read it.
In a MITM attack, the hacker might try to read your data or modify it. Or they may remove certain parts of data without your knowledge.
Imagine your postman taking a peek at your letters before he delivers them. He could read them, change the contents of some, and just keep the remaining with him. Since he sits in the middle and accesses the letters before you do, he can do anything with them without you knowing about it.
There just might be a guy on your network, watching you as you read this post! Or maybe not. You can’t tell because MITM hackers are sneaky.
How Does a Man-in-the-Middle Attack Work?
There are several methods that a hacker can use to eavesdrop on your connection. Here are some more common MITM attacks:
This is generally used by hackers to target the email accounts of big organizations. They may monitor the email accounts for a long time to gain sufficient knowledge before they spoof the email account and add their own bank (or crypto) details instead of the company’s bank details.
This makes the customer think that the email has arrived genuinely from the company and they might make a payment to the hacker’s account.
When you’re accessing a website, you’re in a session with the web server hosting the website. A hacker might hijack your session by spoofing your session ID and see what you’re doing.
One way to do that is by manipulating the cookies on your device. Your cookies contain a lot of data about your online activity, login information, and form data. If a hacker steals your cookies, they can assume your identity and log into your accounts.
This is the most common type of MITM attack. A hacker might set up a public Wi-Fi connection with the same name as the café you visit. Now when you visit the café, you might connect to the hacker’s network instead of the legit café connection.
Once you connect to it, the hacker will be able to read all your data transfers. This is why it’s always advisable to connect to secure networks instead of public Wi-Fi networks.
How to Protect Against MITM Attacks
There are some preventive measures you can take to ensure your network is secure and there are no sneaky snoopers on it.
1. Visit only https websites
You can set your browser to void http website. Since https provides an extra layer of security, even if there’s a hacker on the network, they’ll only know that you opened a website but not know what you’re doing on it.
2. Be wary of phishing attempts
A hacker on your network might only have enough information to fake your contacts' details and will rely on you trusting your friends to gain more.
Email programs such as Gmail generally warn about spoofed emails. If the system thinks an email is spoofed, it will generate a warning. Watch out for such warnings and don’t click on any links within emails.
3. Use a VPN
VPNs are among the best ways to keep your data protected. Since a VPN will encrypt your data, even if a hacker gets access to it, they won’t be able to read it. This means the MITM attack will effectively be useless.
MITM attacks can be scary. You won’t know if someone is stealing your private information. But with tools like VPNs, you can stay protected. Even if the postman was opening and reading your letters, it wouldn’t be of much use to him if the letters were written in encrypted cipher.
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