What are sniffing attacks and how can you protect yourself?

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What is sniffing?

In its simplest form, sniffing is the act of intercepting and monitoring traffic on a network. This can be done by using software that captures all data packets passing through a given network interface or by using hardware devices explicitly designed for this purpose.

What is a sniff attack?

A sniff attack occurs when an attacker uses a packet sniffer to intercept and read sensitive data passing through a network (Biasco, 2021). Common targets for these attacks are unencrypted emails, login credentials, and financial information.

In some cases, attackers can also use sniffing attack tools and packet sniffers to inject malicious code into otherwise harmless data packets in an attempt to hijack a target’s computer or other devices. .

How do hackers intercept packets?

There are several ways for an attacker to capture packets passing through a network. A popular method is to set up a packet sniffer on a computer connected to the network in question. This computer acts as a proxy between the targeted devices and the rest of the world, allowing the attacker to capture all passing traffic.

Another common technique is ARP poisoning, in which the attacker tricks network devices into thinking they are communicating with another device when they are not (Grimmick, 2021). This allows the attacker to intercept and read all traffic passing between the two “devices”.

Types of Sniff Attacks

There are two main types of sniff attacks: passive and active.

Passive sniffing

In a passive sniffing attack, the hacker monitors traffic passing through a network without interfering in any way. This type of attack can be useful for gathering information about targets on a network and the types of data (e.g. login credentials, emails) they are transmitting. Because it involves no interference with target systems, it is also less likely to arouse suspicion than other types of attacks.

Active sniffing

Active sniffing is a type of attack that involves sending specially crafted packets to one or more targets on a network to extract sensitive data. By using specially crafted packets, attackers can often bypass security measures that would otherwise prevent data interception. Active sniffing can also involve the injection of malicious code into target systems, allowing attackers to gain control or steal sensitive information.

Consequences of a sniff attack

A successful sniff attack can have several serious consequences for targets. These may include:

  • Loss of sensitive data, such as login credentials, financial information and emails
  • Injection of malicious code into target systems, allowing attackers to control devices or gain access to sensitive information
  • Interruption in network traffic, which can cause communication problems and slow network performance
  • Exposure of confidential information, such as trade secrets and proprietary data
  • Damage to the reputation of the organization whose network has been compromised
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