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How to protect yourself from Man-in-the-Middle cyber attacks

2 Mins read

Man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks pose a sneaky threat in today’s connected world. This cyber attack works by secretly intercepting communication between two parties. The attacker can then view or even modify exchanged data for malicious purposes without the sender or receiver knowing.

Picture yourself in a restaurant with a side chick, you’re using all the sweet words in your dictionary to convince her to spend the weekend with you because your wife is away to visit her mother on the other side of town. While you’re in the moment, you have no idea your nosey neighbour is across the seats, taking a video and live-streaming it to your wife. Wahala!

The sweet words you’re saying represents the data being sent over a network – from one end (you) to another (side chick). The nosey neighbour is the man-in-the-middle who intercepts data during transfer, and sends it to another destination. That is the basic structure of the MITM attack.

MITM attacks commonly target Wi-Fi connections in public places like restaurants, hotels, public transport, airports, etc. Attackers position themselves between your device and the Wi-Fi router to eavesdrop on data. They may then attempt to harvest passwords, financial information or other sensitive data. Phishing schemes also frequently leverage MITM tactics.

An example of MITM attack is portrayed in the movie – Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning (Part one) (nice movie, you should see it if you haven’t). In the scene where Benji and Luther were giving Ethan the direction to the bridge where Ilsa and Grace were fighting Gabriel. While Benji was guiding Ethan through the corners, The Entity hijacked the communication, impersonated Benji, and led Ethan to an entirely different location.

That right there, is a Man-in-the-middle attack.

A real life example involved a high-profile communication that was intercepted in 2015. The MITM attack was on a phone call between some world leaders. The attackers spied on confidential diplomatic communication by tapping into network links from telecom providers.

Read also: What is the difference between the Internet, Extranet, and Intranet?

Steps to take to protect yourself from MITM attack

So how can everyday internet users avoid getting caught by MITM attacks? Here are important safeguards:

  • Never use public Wi-Fi for financial transactions or accessing sensitive accounts. Assume public connections are compromised. Stick to cellular data when possible.
  • VPN protection encrypts all network traffic which blocks MITM surveillance and tampering. There are reliable VPN service providers that are inexpensive and provide comprehensive security.
  • Look for the lock icon and “https” in your browser URL bar. This verifies website encryption to prevent data interception. Avoid “http” sites.
  • Be suspicious of unexpected security warnings about invalid certificates from trusted sites as it may indicate an attacker intercepting the connection.
  • Disable auto-connecting to public Wi-Fi. Manually connecting only when necessary reduces your vulnerability window.
  • Regularly update your operating system, browsers and security software to block the latest MITM attack methods. Set automatic updates where possible.
  • Verify the site SSL certificate matches the domain you entered. Mismatches could mean an attacker created a fake connection pretense.
  • Avoid online banking or shopping on devices using outdated or non-secure protocols like SSL and TLS 1.0 as they are prone to MITM.

With cyber criminals constantly honing new tactics, we all must remain vigilant to keep our data secure. But following best practices for safe connections, encryption and keeping software up-to-date will go a long way in blocking man-in-the-middle attacks.

Protect yourself by staying alert and being proactive.

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When I'm not reading about tech, I'm writing about it, or thinking about the next weird food combinations to try. I do all these with my headphones plugged in, and a sticky note on my computer with the words: "The galaxy needs saving, Star Lord."
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