What Is an Eavesdropping Attack?
An eavesdropping attack, also known as a sniffing or snooping attack, is a theft of information as it is transmitted over a network by a computer, smartphone or another connected device.
The attack takes advantage of unsecured network communications to access data as it is being sent or received by its user.
Eavesdropping attacks are an age old security problem. In an eavesdropping attack, the attacker passively listens to network communications to gain access to private information, such as node identification numbers, routing updates, or application sensitive data. The attacker can use this private information to compromise nodes in the network, disrupt routing, or degrade application performance. Cryptography is the standard defense against eavesdropping attacks. However, due to their limited computing power, sensors cannot efficiently process the standard cryptographic keys that are used in typical wired networks.
- Avoid public wi-fi networks.
- Keep your antivirus software updated.
- Use strong passwords.
Eavesdropping is a deceptively mild term. The attackers are usually after sensitive financial and business information that can be sold for criminal purposes. There also is a booming trade in so-called spouseware, which allows people to eavesdrop on their loved ones by tracking their smartphone use.
Types of Eavesdropping Attacks
Modern network systems are wired and wireless. As a result, there are two common eavesdropping attacks — Passive Eavesdropping and Active Eavesdropping.
Passive Eavesdropping is more common in wireless networks. In this scenario, the monitoring tool detects the information by listening to the message in transmission. During an Active Eavesdropping incident, the monitoring tool actively captures the data transmitted over a wired or wireless network.
Methods of Eavesdropping
Hackers are constantly coming up with new ways to eavesdrop on digital conversations. Voice-over-IP calls which are made using IP-based communication are recorded with the help of protocol analyzers. The data can be converted into audio files to be analyzed by the hacker.
Another popular eavesdropping method is data sniffing. This technique works well on local networks which make use of a HUB. Since all the communications within the network are sent to all the ports of the network, all a sniffer has to do is choose to accept every bit of incoming data, even though they were not the intended recipients. Wireless networking data can be similarly manipulated if it broadcasts unsecured information to all the network ports.
Taking a step back from digital crime, the simple act of listening to two people talk in the real world using microphones and recorders can often lead to the gain of personal information. phones can be hacked into by remotely activating the device’s speaker function. The same can be done to laptops, where microphones are switched on discretely to listen in on the owner.
Network eavesdropping attack prevention
Unfortunately, detecting and preventing passive network eavesdropping attacks are extremely difficult, if not impossible, as there are no disruptions or changes to the network. Active attacks are easier to detect, but often, data is already intercepted by the time network changes are noticed.
The following can help in preventing eavesdropping attack
- Encryption. First and foremost, encrypt email, networks and communications, as well as data at rest, in use and in motion. That way, even if data is intercepted, the hacker will not be able to decrypt it without the encryption key. For wireless encryption, Wifi protected Access or WPA3 is recommended. All web-based communication should use HTTPS. Note, however, that while most data can be encrypted, network traffic metadata, such as endpoints and IP addresses, can still be gathered via a sniffer.
- Authentication. Authenticating incoming packets is key to preventing spoofed packets that are used to perpetrate IP spoofing or MAC address spoofing attacks. Use standards and protocols that provide authentication. Most cryptographic protocols, such as TLS, Secure Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions, OpenPGP and Ipsec, include some form of authentication.
- Network monitoring. Security teams should constantly monitor networks for abnormal activity by using intrusion detection systems or endpoint detection and response software Security teams should also use the same sniffer programs that nefarious actors use to detect vulnerabilities on the network.
- Awareness and security best practices. Educate employees about the risks of eavesdropping attacks and best practices to protect against them. Because many eavesdropping attacks involve malware, advise employees to never click links or download files they are unfamiliar with. strong password that are changed frequently can prevent attackers from gaining entry via compromised credentials. Also, tell employees to avoid public Wi-Fi networks. These networks with readily available passwords — if any at all — are highly prone to eavesdropping attacks.
- Network segmentation. Segmenting the network can put certain data out of reach of a hacker. For example, separate critical infrastructure from financial and HR applications, and separate all of them from the guest network. Should one segment be compromised, the hacker would not be able to access the other segments.
- Security technologies. Firewalls, VPNs and antimalware are essential to thwart eavesdropping attacks. Using packetfiltering, configure routers and firewalls to reject any packets with spoofed addresses.
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