A man-in-the-middle (MITM) cyberattack refers to a cybercriminal intercepting a digital interaction or exchange between individuals, systems or an individual and a system. During a MITM incident, a cybercriminal could either eavesdrop on an interaction or pretend to be a genuine participant in the exchange. MITM cyberattacks leverage various strategies to manipulate targets, but the goal of these incidents is largely the same—to retrieve confidential data (e.g., banking details or login credentials) and use it to commit additional crimes, such as identity theft or fraudulent fund transfers.
Although individuals are targeted in MITM cyberattacks, such incidents are also a pressing concern for businesses. After all, cybercriminals may utilize individuals’ stolen data to compromise their workplace technology and assets (e.g., customer information, intellectual property and company funds), potentially resulting in significant losses and business disruptions. With this in mind, it’s vital for businesses to take steps to safeguard their operations and employees against MITM incidents.
This article provides more information on MITM cyberattacks, outlines examples of such incidents and offers prevention measures for businesses to consider.
MITM Cyberattacks Explained
A MITM incident typically occurs in two phases. These phases include interception and decryption. During the interception phase, a cybercriminal will attempt to gain access to their target’s technology—usually via a poorly secured Wi-Fi router or fake hotspot—and interfere with the victim’s network connection. From there, the cybercriminal will be able to insert themselves between any digital interactions or exchanges their target may have, thus establishing themselves as the “man in the middle.” As a result, the cybercriminal will have the ability to collect any confidential data shared during their target’s interactions or exchanges (unbeknownst to the victim).
During the decryption phase, the cybercriminal will decode any data they collected from their target, therefore making this information intelligible and allowing it to be utilized to commit further nefarious acts. Cybercriminals may implement a range of techniques to carry out MITM incidents, including the following:
- Internet protocol (IP) spoofing—Any technology with a Wi-Fi connection has a designated IP address that allows for communication with other connected devices or networks. When a cybercriminal engages in IP spoofing, they alter IP address characteristics to mimic their target’s technology system, ultimately sending the victim to fraudulent websites where they may unknowingly share their data.
- Domain Name System (DNS) spoofing—This tactic entails a cybercriminal changing elements of a target’s DNS server as a way of redirecting the victim’s online traffic to fake websites that closely resemble intended domains. If the target logs in to any of these false websites, they will have unintentionally provided the cybercriminal with account credentials and associated data.
- HTTPS spoofing—HTTPS is an internet communication safeguard intended to preserve data confidentiality between an individual’s device and the websites they browse. Through HTTPS spoofing, however, a cybercriminal tricks their target’s browser into thinking a malicious website is safe and secure, thus allowing the victim to access it and unwittingly share their data.