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

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There’s a reason why most people feel uncomfortable about the idea of someone eavesdropping on them—the eavesdropper could possibly overhear sensitive or private information. This is exactly the risk that computer users face with a common threat called a “Man-in-the-Middle” (MITM) attack, where an attacker uses technological tools, such as malware, to intercept the information you send to a website, or even via your email.

Just imagine you are entering login and financial details on an online banking site, and because the attacker is eavesdropping, they can gain access to your information and use it to access your account, or even steal your identity.

There are a variety of ways that attackers can insert themselves in the middle of your online communications. One common form of this attack involves cybercriminals distributing malware that gives them access to a user’s web browser and the information being sent to various websites.

Another type of MITM attack involves a device that most of us have in our homes today: a wireless router. The attacker could exploit vulnerabilities in the router’s security setup to intercept information being sent through it, or they could set up a malicious router in a public place, such as a café or hotel.

Either way, MITM attacks pose a serious threat to your online security because they give the attacker the ability to receive and request personal information posing as a trusted party (such as a website that you regularly use).

Here are some tips to protect you from a Man-in-the-Middle attack, and improve your overall online security:

  • Ensure the websites you use offer strong encryption, which scrambles your messages while in transit to prevent eavesdropping. Look for “httpS:” at the beginning of the web address instead of just “http:” which indicates that the site is using encryption.
  • Change the default password on your home Wi-Fi connection so it’s harder for someone to access.
  • Don’t access personal information when using public Wi-Fi networks, which may, or may not, be secure.
  • Be wary of any request for your personal information, even if it’s coming from a trusted party.
  • Protect all of your computers and mobile devices with comprehensive security software, like McAfee LiveSafe™ service to protect you from malware and other Internet threats.

Robert Siciliano is an Online Security Expert to McAfee. He is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Mobile was Hacked! Disclosures.

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