What is a man-in-the-middle attack?
A man-in-the-middle attack is an attack in which an attacker stands in the middle of a communication channel. One example of a communication channel is that between your computer and your WordPress website.
The attacker impersonates you with the website and the website with you, allowing them to receive all communication. The attacker will still route the information to where it needs to go so that neither you nor the website suspects that the information is being intercepted.
How does a man-in-the-middle attack work?
There are several ways through which an attacker can weasel themself into the middle. In most cases, they reside on the same LAN (Local Area Network) as you and use spoofing to trick your computer into thinking it needs to pass the information on to them.
A somewhat typical scenario in which this might happen is a public WiFi such as those found in airports, hotels, and other public places. Here, the attacker would spoof the router’s IP, tricking your device into sending all traffic to it. Data is still sent to the router, and replies are still passed on to your device however the attacker can read and edit any packets that flow through.
Spoofing is the equivalent of the attacker wearing a mask, tricking your computer into thinking the attacker is the intended destination, such as the router.
Why are man-in-the-middle attacks dangerous?
Man-in-the-middle attacks are dangerous as they allow attackers to read all of the information you send over the network. Furthermore, in certain situations, they allow attackers to impersonate you and gain access to your information and in most cases also modify it.
Software that is able to carry out man-in-the-middle attacks is freely available, as explained in this tutorial on hacking WordPress websites and stealing credentials with a man-in-the-middle attack. While it can be used for legitimate purposes such as testing security, it can also be used for nefarious purposes such as breaking security.
How man-in-the-middle attacks target WordPress websites
Man-in-the-middle attacks work the same way, regardless of the website being accessed. In fact, man-in-the-middle attacks are not generally targeted towards any particular type of web application or website. Instead, they aim to capture whatever information is sent and received in the hopes that something of value gets captured such as login credentials, financial information, etc.
Either way, if you happen to access your WordPress website during a man-in-the-middle attack, your login credentials, along with any other information you send and receive may be stolen by the attacker.
How to protect yourself from man-in-the-middle attacks
One of the best ways to protect yourself against man-in-the-middle attacks is to use encrypted communication channels. In a WordPress environment, this is achieved by installing an SSL/TLS certificate and accessing your WordPress website over HTTPS.
Encrypted data is very difficult to read and can take a very long time to crack. This makes it by far one of the best steps you can take to prevent information from being stolen in a man-in-the-middle attack.
Equally, it is also important to avoid using unsecured Wi-Fi connections since these offer no protection and allow anyone to join the network without authentication. If you do not have access to a secure connection, use VPN to encrypt all data as it is being passed through the network.
Encrypting data through a certificate is but one of the steps you can take to secure your website and protect it from attacks such as man-in-the-middle attacks. A comprehensive WordPress security policy is necessary to ensure your WordPress website is protected on all fronts, helping you stay safe and secure.