What Are SSL Stripping Attacks and How to Prevent Them?
SSL stripping attacks are a type of cyber-attack wherein the hackers strip away the encryption offered by HTTPS. It downgrades the web connection from a more secure HTTPS to a less secure HTTP. Once hackers gain access to the network, they act as a man-in-the-middle, wherein they can eavesdrop on private information and alter data or communications without the owner’s knowledge.
How Do SSL Stripping Attacks Work?
When users visit a website, users are connected to the HTTP version of the website first before being rerouted to the HTTPS version. The hacker intervenes in this redirection to prevent the users from connecting to the HTTPS version.
Explaining this further, every internet connection starts as an insecure one. Users need to visit the HTTP version before establishing authentication to move to the secure HTTPS version. These steps are aimed at ensuring privacy and verifying the legitimacy of the ones involved in the connection.
Hackers “strip” the SSL connection by fitting themselves in the process. When they do this, they act as a man-in-the-middle by establishing their own HTTPS connection with the website (acting as the user) and maintaining the HTTP connection with the user (acting as the website). Once they make these connections, they sit in the middle of the conversation and can access everything the user submits on the website in the decrypted form. When this happens, it’s not just that the users are sharing information with an illegitimate source, but there are high chances that they may receive altered responses in return (as the hacker can even alter the response from the legitimate website).
Types of SSL Stripping Attacks
The three common types of SSL stripping attacks include ARP spoofing, using a proxy server, and using public Wi-Fi hotspots.
A hacker connects to the IP address of a user via a spoofed Address Resolution Protocol (ARP) message. Then the attacker easily obtains the data sent to that IP address.
Using a Proxy Server
An attacker manipulates a browser proxy for routing the traffic to their external server. Consequently, the attacker will receive each request made by the user. This allows them to set up malicious connections based on unencrypted requests.
Using a Fake Public Wi-Fi Network
Cybercriminals create public wireless networks to lure users into connecting to them. Threat actors oftentimes use network names that resemble popular public Wi-Fi networks and legitimate hotspot names like the names of public institutions and cafes.
Once the connections via fake hotspots are established, the attackers can obtain the information of all the users that pass through them.
Examples of Where SSL Stripping Attacks Happen
SSL stripping attacks can take various forms, but here are a few examples of how they can work in action:
Example 1: Helen’s sensitive, personal details get compromised
Helen decides to shop online while she is in a coffee shop, so she connects to the public Wi-Fi network of the shop and visits the online store. The URL bar of the pages she browses doesn’t have a padlock icon that indicates that her connection is secure, but she brushes this off as she is just looking at the dresses and not entering any information.
After ample time browsing, she likes three dresses and adds them to the cart. At this point, she forgets about the missing padlock and enters her credit card details as well as the billing address to finalize her purchase. After losing ₹20,00,000 in fraudulent charges later, Helen comes to know there was a hacker that was interrupting the website’s secure version; thereby exposing her billing address and credit card details.
Example 2: Sophia accidentally exposes customer information
Sophia works in the customer service department and needs to visit a website to put in the details of the customer conversations she has held. Unknowingly, she stays on the website’s HTTP version rather than getting authenticated to the website’s HTTPS version because a hacker was present in the middle of that connection. Now, every piece of information she puts in is shared without any encryption, exposing it to the hacker directly.
During her work, she enters details about her customers, including their full names, account numbers, and addresses. And the hacker sitting in the middle now has access to these details; thus, the information is exposed.
Potential Risks of SSL Stripping Attacks
SSL stripping attacks are very dangerous as they often take place without the user’s knowledge. Users don’t get to alter their behavior because they don’t even realize that something’s wrong. These attacks may pose risks like:
Stealing the login credentials through a man-in-the-middle attack can give the hackers access to several additional systems. This means that even if one system is susceptible to attack, it may also make other more secure systems vulnerable.
Overall, the situation requires the security teams of an organization to ensure there’s no weak link, regardless of how insignificant any given connection point may seem.
SSL stripping attacks don’t just allow the hackers to interrupt the information users send to a website — it also allows them to do the opposite and alter the communications back from the website to the user. This means that users may receive inaccurate communications back from the website as they were already altered by the hacker.
Receiving false information in such a way can prompt the users to take a different set of actions than they would have taken originally, leading to various threats for both companies and individuals.
With SSL stripping attacks, any information that users enter on the website is accessible to hackers and to anyone else because it is unencrypted. This can lead to stolen information (both sensitive and identifiable information) easily about a user or a company’s customers.
How Can You Protect Yourself against SSL Stripping Attacks?
A few tips that you can use in your environment for protecting your website against SSL stripping are as follows:
Use Virtual Private Networks: VPNs protect user data on the websites, regardless of the connection type. If a user uses a VPN while viewing an HTTP website, data remains encrypted. This additional layer of security can help a single user or an entire network.
Avoid Using Public Wi-Fi: Public Wi-Fi hotspots are often the target of man-in-the-middle attacks. Communications can be intercepted easily, or the user may be redirected to malicious websites.
Enable Cookies and Bookmark a Secure Website for Future Use: If you’re on a trusted network, bookmark the websites where you enter your personal, sensitive information. Once you reach an HTTPS website, like a banking website, bookmark that secure website for future use, as it will always have an HTTPS connection. Along with this, enabling secure cookies ensures that all the cookie data is served with secure features.
Never Click Unknown Links and Use HTTPS Always: The most obvious way to stop SSL stripping is by never accepting a connection to a website without HTTPS and never clicking on suspicious links. If any website that you want to visit has an HTTP connection, leave that website immediately and retype the URL.
These simple tips can help you in minimizing the chances of being a victim of SSL stripping attacks.
Secure a Robust and Encrypted Connection for Your Website
Hackers are constantly on the move to access sensitive information by coming up with clever ways to obtain it. Therefore, you should be one step ahead of them when it comes to securing and safeguarding the info of your website and your visitors. Thus, you need BigRock’s SSL certificate to help you out. It offers up to 256-bit encryption for maximum security. Learn more about our SSL certificate now by speaking with our representatives.