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What is a Man-in-the-Middle Attack?

  • Vrinda Mathur
  • Sep 15, 2022
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A man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack is a type of cyberattack in which attackers intercept an ongoing conversation or data transfer by eavesdropping or impersonating a legitimate participant. 


The victim will believe that a normal exchange of information is taking place, but the attacker can quietly hijack information by inserting themselves into the "middle" of the conversation or data transfer.


The goal of a MITM attack is to obtain sensitive data such as bank account information, credit card numbers, or login credentials, which can then be used to commit additional crimes such as identity theft or illegal fund transfers. Because MITM attacks occur in real-time, they frequently go undetected until it is too late.


Also Read | What are Ransomware Attacks and How can they be Prevented?


What is a Man-in-the-Middle Attack?


A man-in-the-middle attack is a type of eavesdropping attack in which the attacker disrupts an ongoing conversation or data transfer. The attackers pose as both legitimate participants after inserting themselves in the "middle" of the transfer. 


This allows an attacker to intercept information and data from either party while also sending malicious links or other information to both legitimate parties in a way that may go undetected until it is too late.


This type of attack is analogous to the game of telephone, in which one person's words are passed from participant to participant until they have changed by the time they reach the final person. 


In a man-in-the-middle attack, the middle participant manipulates the conversation while remaining unknown to either of the two legitimate participants, with the goal of obtaining confidential information or causing damage.


A man-in-the-middle (MiTM) or adversary-in-the-middle (AiTM) attack in cryptography and computer security is a cyberattack in which the attacker secretly relays and possibly alters communications between two parties who believe they are directly communicating with each other because the attacker has inserted themselves between the two parties.


This is simple in many cases; for example, an attacker within the reception range of an unencrypted Wi-Fi access point could act as a man-in-the-middle. A MITM attack can succeed only if the attacker impersonates each endpoint sufficiently well to satisfy their expectations, as it aims to circumvent mutual authentication. 


To prevent MITM attacks, most cryptographic protocols include some form of endpoint authentication. TLS, for example, can use a mutually trusted certificate authority to authenticate one or both parties.


Also Read | What is Cybersecurity?


Phases of Man-in-the-middle Attack


A successful MITM attack comprises two distinct stages: interception and decryption :

The image shows the Phases of Man-in-the-middle attack which includes Interception and Deciphering

Phases of Man-in-the-middle attack


  1. Interception


An interception occurs when an attacker interferes with a victim's legitimate network by intercepting it with a bogus network before it reaches its intended destination. The attacker inserts themselves as the "man in the middle" during the interception phase.


Attackers frequently accomplish this by establishing a bogus Wi-Fi hotspot in a public place that does not require a password. When a victim connects to the hotspot, the attacker gains access to any online data exchanges.


After successfully inserting themselves between the victim and the desired destination, an attacker may use a variety of techniques to continue the attack:


  • IP spoofing:- Every Wi-Fi-connected device has an internet protocol (IP) address, which is essential for networked computers and devices to communicate with one another. IP spoofing is the process by which an attacker changes IP packets in order to impersonate the victim's computer system. 


When the victim attempts to access a URL associated with that system, they are unknowingly directed to the attacker's website.


  • Address Resolution Protocol (ARP):-  Spoofing occurs when an attacker uses forged ARP messages to link their MAC address to a victim's legitimate IP address. The attacker gains access to any data sent to the host IP address by connecting their MAC address to an authentic IP address.


  • DNS Spoofing:-  DNS spoofing, also known as DNS cache poisoning, is the process by which an attacker changes a DNS server in order to redirect a victim's web traffic to a fraudulent website that closely resembles the intended website. Attackers can gain access to personal data and other information if the victim logs in to what they believe is their account.


  1. Deciphering


A MITM attack does not end with an interception. Once the attacker has gained access to the victim's encrypted data, it must be decrypted before the attacker can read and use it. There are several methods that could be used to decrypt the victim's data without alerting the user or application:


  • HTTPS spoofing: This is a method of tricking your browser into thinking a website is safe and authentic when it is not. When a victim attempts to connect to a secure site, their browser receives a false certificate, which redirects them to the attacker's malicious website. This grants the attacker access to any data shared by the victim on that site.


  • SSL Hijacking: This occurs when you connect to an unsecure website, indicated by the letter "HTTP" in the URL, and your server automatically redirects you to the secure HTTPS version of that site. 


The attacker intercepts the reroute using their own computer and server, allowing them to disrupt any information passed between the user's computer and server. This grants them access to any sensitive information used by the user during their session.


  • SSL Stripping: This occurs when an attacker disrupts the connection between a user and a website. This is accomplished by redirecting a user's secure HTTPS connection to the website's unsecure HTTP version.


Also Read | What are Evil Twin Attacks?


Prevention for Man-in-the-Middle Attack 


In this section, we discussed some prevention techniques for avoiding MITM attacks on interactions.


  1. Encryption of wireless access points (WAPs)


Adding a strong protection feature to access points eliminates legitimate access simply by being closer to the system. A weak security system allows an intruder to brute-force his way into the system and begin attacking the MITM.


  1. Make use of a VPN


  • Make use of a Virtual Private Network (VPN)


An encrypted VPN, which encrypts your web traffic, severely limits a hacker's ability to read or modify web traffic. Prepare for data loss by creating a cybersecurity incident response plan.


  • Network Safety


Use an intrusion detection system to protect your network. To prevent a man-in-the-middle attack, network administrators should practice good network hygiene. Examine traffic patterns for unusual behavior.


  1. Public Key Pair Authentication


MITM attacks typically include some form of spoofing. Public key pair authentication, such as RSA, is used at various layers of the protocol stack to ensure that the objects you communicate with are essentially the objects you want to communicate with.


  1. Excellent Network User Credentials


It is critical to ensure that the primary email login is changed. Not only the Wi-Fi login credentials but also the password hashes for your router. When a hacker discovers the wireless router login information, the fraudulent servers can be switched to the DNS servers. Or, at worst, infect the modem with malicious malware.


  1. Communication Safety


Communication security protects users from unauthorized messages and offers secure data encryption. The most effective way to prevent account hacking is to enable two-factor authentication. 


It implies that, in addition to your login credentials, you will be required to provide another security factor. One example is the combination of a login credential and a text message from Gmail to your device.


  1. Do not use public Wi-Fi


If you're using public wifi, set your phone to require a manual link. MITM attacks can be difficult to detect as they occur. The simplest way to stay secure is to incorporate all of the above security prevention measures on a regular basis.


Be aware that such attacks are a type of social engineering. Take a few minutes to investigate anything out of the ordinary about social media and email.


  1. Deploy a UEBA solution


User and entity behavior analytics (UEBA) uses machine learning to detect even the most minute changes in the behavior of users and devices connected to the corporate network. 


Machine learning tools are increasingly being used to monitor small changes in behavior that may be suspicious and indicative of a MITM attack as cyberattacks become more complex and threat vectors appear anywhere. Fortis Insight, Fortinet's 


The UEBA solution not only continuously monitors the behavior of all users and endpoints, but it also uses automation to respond to threats in real-time.


  1. Adopt the philosophy of zero trust


Zero trust is a security concept that requires organizations to not trust anything within or outside their perimeters. Instead, before granting access, they must first verify anything attempting to connect to their systems. 


The "never trust, always verify" model is based on continuous verification across every device, user, and application. Zero-trust approaches can either prevent an MITM attack from occurring or protect an organization's assets if one is already in progress.


  1. Update and secure home Wi-Fi routers


This is perhaps the most important, as work-from-home (WFH) policies typically require employees to connect to the internet via a home router in order to access the corporate network. Wi-Fi router software, also known as firmware, should be updated on a regular basis. 


Because firmware updates are not automatic, this process must be completed manually. Also, ensure that the router's security settings are set to the highest level, which is currently WPA3 according to the Wi-Fi Alliance.





The man-in-the-middle attack is one of the most common methods used by hackers to steal sensitive information. A man-in-the-middle attack involves a hacker secretly inserting his device into a communication path. 


When devices exchange information via the communication path, the information passes through the hacker's device. Because all information passes through the hacker's device, the hacker can modify the information so that the target device believes it received it from the device with which it is communicating.


MITM attacks can cause so much havoc because they can enter a network undetected, harvest private data, and leave before anyone notices. Devices connect to the strongest signal, so if someone isn't paying attention, their device could connect with the bogus SSID and their passwords could be stolen. MITM attacks can be detected and stopped, but the attacker can still get away with the stolen data.


As our digitally connected world evolves, so does the sophistication of cybercrime and the exploitation of security flaws. It is critical to educate yourself on cybersecurity best practices in order to defend against man-in-the-middle attacks and other types of cybercrime. At the very least, having strong antivirus software installed helps to keep your data safe and secure.

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