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

An MITM Attack is a type of cyberattack that occurs when an attacker intercepts communication between two parties to steal sensitive information, such as login credentials or credit card numbers, with the aim of carrying out malicious activities like identity theft or fund transfers.

Man-in-the-Middle Attack Explained

A Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) Attack is a cyberattack in which an attacker intercepts communication between two parties, such as a user and an application, to eavesdrop or impersonate one of the parties. The attacker can steal personal information like login credentials, account details, and credit card numbers. The goal is to gain unauthorized access to sensitive information that can be used for identity theft, fund transfer, or other malicious activities.

  • MITM attacks are also referred to as bucket-brigade attacks or session hijacking attacks.
  • These attacks can occur on any communication channel that involves the exchange of sensitive information.
  • The attacker can manipulate, modify, or inject their own data into the communication stream.

MITM Attack Phases

The MITM attack has two phases: interception and decryption.


Interception is the first step where an attacker intercepts user traffic through their network before it reaches its intended destination. 

  • Attackers commonly use passive attacks by making free malicious WiFi hotspots available to the public or active attacks like IP spoofing, ARP spoofing, and DNS spoofing.
  • In passive attacks, the attacker doesn't change the content of the communication but monitors it to steal information.
  • Active attacks involve modifying or changing the communication to gain access to sensitive information.


After interception, two-way SSL traffic needs to be decrypted without alerting the user or application.

  • Attackers use various methods to decrypt the intercepted communication, such as HTTPS spoofing, SSL BEAST, SSL hijacking, and SSL stripping.
  • HTTPS spoofing involves sending a phony certificate to the victim's browser to gain access to the data.
  • SSL BEAST targets a TLS version 1.0 vulnerability in SSL by intercepting encrypted cookies sent by a web application.
  • SSL hijacking occurs when an attacker passes forged authentication keys to both the user and application during a TCP handshake.
  • SSL stripping downgrades a HTTPS connection to HTTP by intercepting the TLS authentication sent from the application to the user.

Examples of MITM Attacks:

MITM attacks can occur in different ways. Two common examples are:

Scenario 1: Intercepting Data

In this scenario, the attacker installs a packet sniffer to analyze network traffic for insecure communications. When a user logs in to a site, the attacker retrieves their user information and redirects them to a fake site that mimics the real one. The attacker's fake site gathers data from the user, which the attacker can then use on the real site to access the target's information.

Scenario 2: Gaining Access to Funds

In this scenario, the attacker sets up a fake chat service that mimics that of a well-known bank. Using knowledge gained from the data intercepted in the first scenario, the attacker pretends to be the bank and starts a chat with the target. The attacker then starts a chat on the real bank site, pretending to be the target and passing along the needed information to gain access to the target's account. MITM attacks can also occur on public WiFi networks, where attackers can intercept communication between users and applications.

Man in the Middle Attack Prevention:

MITM attacks are a serious threat to businesses and individuals alike, as they can result in the theft of sensitive information and data breaches. Here are five ways to prevent MITM attacks:

  1. Use secure connections: Make sure to only visit websites with a secure HTTPS connection using SSL technology, which prevents MITM attacks. Secure sites can easily be identified by the URL starting with "https://" and a padlock icon in the URL field. Avoid using public Wi-Fi networks, especially in places with lax security like coffee shops, as they are easy targets for cybercriminals.

  2. Use a VPN: A virtual private network (VPN) encrypts your data when connecting online, which blocks MITM attacks from infiltrating your network traffic. This is particularly important when using public Wi-Fi networks or working remotely.

  3. Use endpoint security: Install strong endpoint security software to protect against malware and other threats that can combine with MITM attacks. Endpoint security software can check potentially dangerous websites and emails to help you avoid falling victim to a cyberattack, and can step in to defend you if your device or network becomes infected with malware.

  4. Use multi-factor authentication (MFA): Implement MFA to require an additional form of verification beyond your username and password to log into your accounts. This can include entering a PIN or a special code texted to your mobile phone. MFA makes it more difficult for cybercriminals to gain access to your information or money if they trick you with a fake website.

  5. Educate your staff: Train your employees, particularly remote workers, to recognize and avoid MITM attacks. Make sure they know best practices like implementing a VPN, avoiding public Wi-Fi networks, and using MFA. Have a plan to routinely educate and remind your team about the latest cyber threats, as the more they understand the risks, the less likely your business will suffer consequences from cyberattacks.

By taking these steps, you can greatly reduce the risk of MITM attacks and other cyber threats, and protect your sensitive information and data.

In conclusion, MITM attacks are a significant threat to individuals and organizations, as they can lead to the loss of sensitive information, identity theft, and other malicious activities. Prevention measures such as avoiding public WiFi, using VPNs, and secure communication protocols can help mitigate the risk of MITM attacks. 


Preventing MITM with IRONSCALES

IRONSCALES is an anti-phishing and email security platform that offers real-time phishing prevention, detection, and response.

  • The platform uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to detect and prevent phishing emails, which are commonly used in MITM attacks.
  • The platform also provides real-time threat intelligence and automated incident response, allowing organizations to quickly identify and respond to potential threats.
  • The platform also includes integrated phishing simulation testing and security awareness training to provide employees with the necessary training to ensure cybersecurity best practices and prepare them for the latest phishing and cyberattack trends.

By combining these features, IRONSCALES offers a holistic solution to prevent man-in-the-middle attacks and protect organizations from various types of cyber threats.

Check out the IRONSCALES AI-driven and self-learning email security platform here and get a demo today.

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