MITM Attack vs Packet Sniffing Attack | What are the Differences?

The MITM attack and the Packet sniffing attacks are two types of cyber threat that is performed by hackers or cybercriminals to cause damage, steal personal and confidential data. In both types, attackers illegally access a network system, device, and server. Though both of them are a constant threat to a computer, network, and server system, they have some differences in common. In this article, we will be discussing the comparison between these two types of cyber-attacks. So, let’s start.

MITM Attack Vs Sniffing Attack

What is MITM Attack?

Though the MITM attack is commonly abbreviated as Man in The Middle attack, it is also referred to as Monster in The Middle, Machine in The Middle, Monkey in The Middle, Meddler in The Middle, or Person in The Middle (PITM) attack by the cybersecurity experts. In this type of cyber-attack, the attackers secretly hide on the communication system or a data transmitting system. The attackers can relay or modify the communication between multiple parties who believe that they are communicating with themselves. Also, the attacker is able to intercept all the relevant chats, messages, and texts between the victims and inject new ones into the conversation. On the data transmitting process, the attacker could easily redirect or relay the data transmission process.

What is the Packet Sniffing Attack?

A sniffing attack is an attack on the network or server system by which the cybercriminals or hackers intercept a data flow system by capturing the network traffic using a packet sniffer (network packets capturing tool). On a network system, the data is transmitted across the system, which is called data flow. Sniffers illegally access a network system unanimously and inspect the transmitted data to gain information. Though in sniffing attacks, attackers only are able to capture and inspect unencrypted data, it is a big threat to the security of a network system. It can be one of the primary steps of hacking. In some cases, sniffing could be used by IT or security experts.

History & Evolution: MITM and Packet Sniffing Attack

Evolution of MITM Attack

The first notable man-in-the-middle attack took place before the invention of the internet. Italian inventor and scientist Guglielmo Marconi was the middle man of that MITM attack. He intercepted a wirelessly transmitted message sent by Mr. Cornwall to Mr. Maskelyne. After several years, during World War II, the British intelligence operated a MITM attack against the Nazi forces to spy on them. The British version of medium wave radio transmitter, Aspidistra, operators used to transmit fake messages to Nazis. In the closest past, in December 2014, Lenovo released a pre-installed software named Superfish Visual Search, which allowed facilitated placement of advertisements on the device, that even worked on encrypted pages. That pre-installed software could be removed by the Microsoft Defender Firewall.  

As you can see, the history of the MITM attack is enriched by nearly a century of old incidents. Though it is an old term, it is often used in modern times, which is a major threat to security.

Evolution of Packet Sniffing Attack

Packet sniffing was originally introduced as a network diagnostic method to diagnose multiple issues of a network system. It is also used to save data and other information from being sent across the network. Novell LANalyser and Microsoft Network Monitor are the first network monitors and devices that are used for packet sniffing. After capturing the data package, they were analyzed in detail to check the network issues and diagnose them. Over time, many new programs were developed, these programs were able to decipher communication exchange.

With the advancement of information technology systems, packet sniffers improve their skills to attack networks and deploy new schemes to obtain and inspect secured information. Multiple network switches and hubs were introduced on the network systems to reduce the successful malicious packet sniffing attacks.   

Core Purposes of MITM and Packet Sniffing Attack

What are the Purposes of MITM Attack?

MITM attacks are performed for some objectives like spying, stealing personal and confidential data, traffic redirecting, and so on. Through the MITM attacks, the attacker could facilitate themselves with the personal and confidential data of a user. It is possible to cause arranged conflict between two groups through the MITM attack on an important conversation. The hackers or the attacker could use MITM attacks as a tool to spy on the individual, group, and business farms. With the MITM attacks, it is possible to inject malicious codes into a device or server system. Considering all these things, the main purpose of MITM attacks is to cause damage, spy, and steal personal and confidential data.

By the MITM attack, the attacker also steals some important user information like login credentials, account details, credit card, and financial information. Probably for these notorious reasons, some victims or people abbreviated MITM as Monster/Monkey in the Middle.  

What are the Purposes of Packet Sniffing Attacks?

Though sniffing could be done to ensure the health of a network system traffic and monitoring a network system, the illegal use of it may cause significant damage to the network, server, and computer system. Similar to the MITM attacks, packet sniffing attacks could be performed to spy, steal personal and confidential data, and for traffic redirecting. As said before, in packet sniffing attacks, an attacker monitors capture, and inspects unencrypted data packages of a network and server system. Some experts have referred to packet sniffing attacks as a primary tool for hacking a system. Like the MITM attacks, a malicious code can be injected into the system through the packet sniffing attack.

The damage to packet sniffing attacks is not lesser than the MITM attacks, in case it could be far more destructive than the MITM attacks. Attackers could hide unanimously on the system for a long period without any sign of sniffing. At this point, packet sniffing could cause collective damage to the victim for a longer time.

‘MITM Attack and Packet Sniffing Attack’ – Types

What are the types of MITM Attacks?

Based on the characteristics and the attacking process, there are 7 types of MITM attacks that are noticed. Here are the types of MITM attacks;

1.      IP Spoofing

2.      DNS Spoofing

3.      HTTPS Spoofing

4.      SSL Hijacking

5.      Email Hijacking

6.      Wi-Fi Eavesdropping

7.      Browser Cookies 

What are the Types of Sniffing Attacks?

The sniffing attacks are divided into two types on the basis of sniffing techniques, active sniffing, and passive sniffing. Inactive sniffing, the attackers overcome the network switch to monitor and inspect all the data traffic of a network or server system, while passive sniffing attacks are only operated to monitor and inspect the data traffic of the host machine.

On the measure of filtering, the packet sniffing attacks are also divided into two types, filtered and unfiltered. The filtered packet sniffing attacks is operated to monitor and inspect only the specific data packets, while the unfiltered data packets monitor and inspect all the data packets of a network system.

The Processes of MITM Attack and Packet Sniffing Attack

What is the Process of MITM Attacks?

As said before, the MITM attack is a type of eavesdropping attack and the attacker intercepts a conversation or a data transfer process, by hiding themselves on the system. After access to the middle of a conversation or data transfer, the attacker (middleman) could easily act as all the legitimate participants, which allows the attacker to capture the data and information from both parties. By hiding in the middle of a conversation or data transmission process, the attacker could easily inject malicious code or programs on both sides.

The MITM attackers use some hijacking tools or proxies to access in the middle of a conversation or a data transmission system. Afterward, they hide on the system to monitor, inspect, and relay the conversation or the data transfer process. Since it is pretty tough to decrypt the encrypted data, the attacker relay on the unencrypted data transfer or conversation most of the time.

What is the Process of Packet Sniffing Attacks?

To monitor the traffic and inspect the data packets of a network system, the attacker uses some specialized tools which are called packet sniffers. These packet sniffer tools help the attackers to pass through the network system security and access unanimously on the network system. The specialized tools also help them to monitor the data traffic, capture the data packets, and inspect the data packets. This involves the unethical extraction of captured unencrypted data. 

Though most of these specialized sniffing tools are programmed by IT professionals and security experts, nowadays, they are unethically used by black hat hackers, cybercriminals in order to cause collective damage to an individual, group, or business firm. The packet sniffing attack is facilitating the hackers and cybercriminals through personal and confidential information and data.

Detections and Signs of MITM Attack and Packet Sniffing Attack

How to Detect MITM Attack?

It is difficult to detect the MITM attack, but the presence of a middle man creates ripples in the regular activity of the network. In this case, conventional wisdom will help you to detect the presence of an attacker. Here are some signs that address the presence of a middleman on your network system;

1.      Repeated and unexpected disconnections

The MITM attackers sometimes forcefully disconnect the user to intercept the username and password whenever the user tries to reconnect. If you are getting disconnected repeatedly from the network connections, you need to review this suspicious behavior proactively.

2.      Strange activity on the browser address bar

Another sign of the MITM attack could be the strange behavior of the internet browser. If you notice anything odd on the browser history and address bar, you need to review that twice. Because it is the major sign of DNS (Domain Name System hijacking.

How to Detect Packet Sniffing Attack?

As said before, packet sniffing attacks are a passive way to capture and intercept the transmitted data packages of a network system illegally. Hence, it is pretty tough to detect a packet sniffer attack, especially on a shared Ethernet connection. Whenever installed on a device or network system, a sniffer generates a small amount of traffic. In this case, monitoring the slightest traffic of your network system can help you to detect the packet sniffing attack. However, some security experts or IT specialists suggest following some methods to detect the packet sniffing attack. A third-party utility called arpwatch is used for monitoring the ARP (Address Resolution Protocol) gateway caches, it could help you to detect the smallest changes on your ARP cache. Though, it could trigger multiple false alarms on a network implementing the DHCP gateway. There are many programs and applications that are developed to detect sniffing attacks, Anti-sniff, Neped, Snort are some of them. But none of these programs are foolproof to detect packet sniffing attacks.  

Overall, it is not easy to detect a packet sniffing attack. So, you need to follow the old adage Prevention is Better than cure. You need to learn about how to prevent packet sniffing attacks.

Preventions for MITM and Packet Sniffing Attack

How to Prevent MITM Attack?

Some security steps could effectively help you to avoid MITM attacks. These are some common security steps that are highly effective to beat the middle man. These below-described security steps can help you to prevent the MITM attack;

1. Use a VPN Connection

A VPN connection allows data encryption whilst it leaves the application and security layer. So, your data automatically got encrypted. As you know, it is tough to decrypt encrypted data packets.

2. Use a Secured and Private Wi-Fi Network

Secured and encrypted Wi-Fi connections can help you to keep away most of the network issues, including the MITM attacks. Whenever you use a public network, use a VPN service, though it is better to avoid the public network.

3. End-to-end Encryption

While contacting others through texts, messages, audio-video calling, emailing, use a medium that is end-to-end encrypted. Some modern-day social applications offer end-to-end encryption to user information and data.

4. Safe Browsing

Stay away from the less reputed and unsecured websites while browsing through the internet. Always avoid the attachments of spam mail and pop-ups from untrusted websites.

5.  Upgrade the Antivirus and Device System

You need to keep the device and network system patched, and update the firewall and antivirus application of your device to avoid malware as well as MITM attacks.

6.  Multifactor Authentication

Wherever available, use multifactor authentication to avoid illegal approaching your online accounts, servers, bank accounts. It’ll add some extra protection to your accounts.

How to Prevent Packet Sniffing Attacks?

Though packet sniffing attacks are pretty tough to detect, it is easy to prevent packet sniffing attacks. You need to follow some network security methods to prevent packet sniffing attacks. Using end-to-end data encryption is the best way to secure yourself from sniffing attacks. While the end-to-end data encryption won’t prevent the sniffer from functioning, it will prevent the data packets from being read by the sniffer. Those below-described security steps can help you to prevent Sniffing attacks;

1. VPN Service

To beat the sniffing attacks, data encryption is necessary. Data encryption offers the most perfect protection against sniffing attacks. To encrypt your data, a VPN (Virtual Private Network) service is necessary. The VPN service encrypts your data and passes it through a secured and encrypted network channel system through the internet. This process makes it tough for anyone to decrypt the intercepted data.

2. Avoiding Public Wi-Fi Connection

While using the public Wi-Fi connection to browse the internet, anyone can sniff your information to facilitate themselves with your data. So, it is better to avoid public Wi-Fi connections. In case, you can use a VPN service while using a public Wi-Fi connection.

3. Using a Secured Protocol

Always use a secured network protocol to avoid packet sniffing. Here, it is recommended to use a VPN service as a confirmation of security. Some extensions or add-ons could help you to increase the security of the internet protocol.

4. Upgrade Security Software

An antivirus tool provides you with around-the-clock protection against malware, viruses, Trojans, worms, spyware, and other security threats. To knock out the injected virus on the system by the sniffers, you need to use an antivirus tool.

5. Safe Browsing

To avoid packet sniffing attacks, you need to avoid all unencrypted websites. Browsing unencrypted websites increases the risks of packet sniffing attacks. Always remember to avoid spam mail, unusual pop-ups, and never download any content from a non-reputed site.  

6. Network Monitoring and Scanning

To protect the commercial network or server system from packet sniffing attacks, it is always better to hire professional network administrators and IT professionals. They will monitor and scan the network and server system. It will keep your system away from packet sniffing attacks and other cyber threats.

The Comparison Between – ‘MITM Attack and Packet Sniffing Attack’

Here, the comparison between these two nefarious cyberattacks is described in short on the table shown below;

 MITM AttacksPacket Sniffing Attacks
Reasons Behind the AttackModify the conversation, gathering information of the victim.Capture and inspect the data packets of a network system to gathering information of the victims.
TypesSeveral types including the spoofing (DNS, IP, & HTTPS), Hijacking (SSL, Email), Eavesdropping on network connection, and Cookies of the browser.Two types based on sniffing techniques (Active & Passive) and two types based on the data filtering (Filtered & Unfiltered).
DetectionHard to detect, possible to detect by analyzing the unexpected disconnections and strange web address on the browser address bar.Generates a very little amount of traffic, you can detect it by monitoring the slightest network traffic (Though this is pretty tough)
Modification of the captured Data and InformationYesNo
Hiding PlaceCommunication SystemNetwork System
Disconnecting Status User get repeatedly disconnected from the network or server.While attacked the sniffer don’t disconnect the user from the network system.
EntranceFollowing the browser cookies, Spam mail, spoofing and eavesdropping on internet connection.Phishing, Malicious code, clicking on the pop-ups, Spamming, and visiting not secured websites.
Damaging LevelModifies multiple conversations, inject malicious code, leaking of personal and confidential information.May lead to a hacking, sniffing of all types of data and information of individual and organizations, the user could get injected by a malicious program.
PreventionEncryption, VPN connection, avoiding spams, Multi-factor authentication.Encryption, VPN connection, avoiding public Wi-Fi, Secured network protocol, safe browsing.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How Common MITM Attacks Are?

The MITM attacks are not common as the Ransomware and Phishing attacks are, yet it is like an ever-present threat for organizations because it is nowadays being used for spying on individuals and organizations. According to an index by IBM, around 35 percent of exploitation activity involved attackers’ attempts to conduct MITM attacks. After all, MITM attacks is being very common as days go by.

How Long Could a MITM Attack Last?

MITM attackers could hide in the communication system for a long time. The longevity of a MITM attack depends on the sophistication level of the attack. If the attack is too sophisticated, it could last for a long time. In most common cases, the MITM attackers didn’t continue their attacks after getting detected.

Should I Use a Free VPN Service?

It is always better to use a premium VPN service, while most of the free VPN services are just junk. The premium VPN service offers you some essential premium features that are essential for a secured internet connection.

Wrapping Up

Here you are now, hope you have known enough about the difference between the MITM and the packet sniffing attacks. The MITM attacks are mostly conducted to spy or eavesdrop on a communication system, whilst the packet sniffing attacks are conducted to capture and inspect the incoming and outgoing data packets from a system. Well, that’s all for today, have a great day.  

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