Detection and Prevention of Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) Attacks

Detection and Prevention of Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) Attacks

MITM attacks infiltrate a company’s IT network causing widespread damage. Organizations need to deploy robust detection and prevention methods before cybercriminal attempts to put themselves between the two parties.

MITM poses a threat to the organization as the attacker can use the information to relay identity theft or illicit credential changes. A man-in-the-middle attack (MITM) is a cyber-attack that intercepts communication between two parties to collect or alter data.

Prevention of MITM Attacks

Robust mitigation is the best defense against MITM attacks. The implementation of a VPN to restrict the utilization of public Wi-Fi networks is some of the ways to constrain attacks on organizations. In addition to these measures, here are some crucial prevention methods organizations can imply.

  • Make Sure the Connections Are Secure

Secure connections are the first line of defense against MITM attacks. Organizations must ensure that users only access websites that contain “HTTPS” in the URL bar rather than “HTTP.” The best way to spot a secure website is by spotting the padlock sign, which appears in most browsers.

In addition to ensuring a secure website, it is also necessary to avoid using public Wi-Fi connections to restrict interception by cybercriminals. Organizations need to deploy a multifactor authentication system across the network, adding a security layer to online communications.

  • Avoid Accessing Questionable Emails

Cybercriminals effectively mask phishing emails that appear as an average email a user would receive, allowing threat actors to trick users into accessing them. As per a recent report by IBM, “Cost of a Data Breach Report 2022“, phishing was the costliest data breach averaging USD 4.91 million in breach costs, and the second most common cause of a breach at 16%. To avoid such scenarios, users must ensure they access emails received only from verified and known sources, as phishing emails appear to come from a legit source. These emails prompt users to click a link to add the login credentials, change/update passwords, redirect a user to a fake website, or download malicious software on the system.

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  • Encrypt Virtual Private Network

A VPN network can connect to insecure public Wi-Fi networks and hotspots, as it can efficiently encrypt internet connections and online data transfers. Therefore, a VPN can successfully ambush a potential MITM attack. VPN restricts the cybercriminal from deciphering the messages or accessing resources due to its powerful encryption. Furthermore, organizations must ensure that employees log in via secure corporate VPN channels.

  • Impose Robust Endpoint Security and Station Network Intrusion Detection System (NIDS)

Comprehensive endpoint security implementation is paramount when an organization is trying to prevent the attack’s spread. MITM utilizes malware to execute the attack. Hence, organizations must have antimalware and internet security products stationed.

Furthermore, NIDS must be stationed at crucial points within a network to monitor the traffic of network devices. It analyses the passing traffic on the entire subnet. It matches it with the library of known attacks, allowing the organizations to identify abnormal behavior and direct it to a cybersecurity professional to investigate further.

  • Endpoint Micro-segmentation

One of the methods to neutralize MITM threats is via endpoint micro-segmentation. A comprehensive endpoint security solution utilizes an edge micro-segmentation that will move the user into a protected environment isolated from the local network.

Well-known micro-segmentation systems use powerful mechanisms that operate as a bi-directional firewall. This method actively prevents data leakage and maintains secure communications within the network gateway, avoiding poisoning routing tables.
  • Employee Education and Training

Most cyber-attacks are initiated by human intervention unknowingly. Businesses need to educate the team about MITM attacks and their preventive measures by encouraging their involvement in proactive security awareness training. This awareness will enable them to act appropriately when MITM attacks occur. The training should also teach the employees to spot suspicious emails and handle them with best security practices, allowing them to pre-emptively safeguard sensitive data.

  • Employ Regular Software Updates and WPA Encryptions

Regularly updating the software systems is a security fundamental that is as important as employee education. Organizations need to consistently update the software and browsers in use to prevent unnecessary vulnerabilities in the infrastructure.

Simultaneously, businesses need to secure wireless access points with a robust encryption protocol by deploying WPA, WPA2, or WPA3 encryption, the risk of MITM attacks.

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Detection of MITM Attacks

MITM attacks can be challenging to detect. However, its presence establishes ripples in the regular network activity identifiable with effective detection methods. Here are a few detection methods organizations need to utilize.

  • Spot Unexpected/Repeated Disconnections and Questionable Addresses in the Browser Address Bar

MITM attackers unexpectedly or repetitively disconnect users. This prompts the user to enter the login details, like the username and password, to regain connectivity. By monitoring these forceful disconnections, users can detect the potential risks and opt for further investigations by a cyber-security professional.

Additionally, an easy way to detect a MITM attack is to check the address bar to spot unusual website addresses in the browser by looking for inappropriate spelling errors in the web addresses. For example, if a user sees https:\\ instead of https:\\, this might be a casting net for initiating a possible MITM attack.

  • Latency Examination

Latency examination allows businesses to detect a MITM attack. Timestamps in the transmission control protocol (TCP) packet headers can show latency comparisons. MITM can also be seen during network monitoring using deep packet inspection (DPI) and deep flow inspection (DFI). DPI and DFI provide network monitors with vital insights like packet length and size for identifying anomalies in the network traffic. Simultaneously, IoT devices utilize fog computing to detect the speed of data transfer. As MITM attacks target IoT devices, employing intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDPS) in the fog layer will help organizations rapidly detect attacks. Anomalies in the captured network traffic need to pass forensic analysis to determine if it is a MITM attack. Once confirmed, the next step is to track the source. Therefore, it is vital to have MITM detection systems that work closely with SIEM tools.

MITM attacks are challenging to prevent and detect. Constraining MITM attacks requires numerous practical steps and a combination of application encryption and verification methods. Adequate understanding of preventing these attacks requires appropriate education and integration of best practices, including intrusion detection, VPN installations, and secure authentication protocols.

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