You will no doubt have heard of a man in the middle (MiTM) attack. Here we define this attack method, explain how a MiTM attack occurs, and show you how to prevent a man in the middle attack and keep your devices and networks secure.
What is a Man in the Middle Attack?
Man in the middle attacks are commonly cited as a threat, but what exactly is a man in the middle attack? As the name suggests, this is a scenario where a person inserts him or herself between two communicating systems and intercepts conversations or data sent between the two. It is the computer equivalent on eavesdropping on a phone call where neither party is aware that their conversation is not private and confidential.
With a phone call, eavesdropping would allow an attacker to gather a host of sensitive information, which is divulged verbally between both parties. In this scenario, the attacker does not influence the conversation. He/she must wait until a valuable nugget of information is disclosed by either party.
A MiTM attack is concerned with intercepting data transferred between two parties. This could be data sent between a smartphone app and a server, between two parties on a messaging app such as WhatsApp, or an email conversation between two parties. It could also be communication between a user’s browser and a website.
In contrast to the telephone call scenario, which is passive, in a MiTM attack the attacker can influence what is being said. In fact, with a MiTM attack, the two people or systems communicating are not really communicating with each other. Each is communicating with the attacker.
Take email for example. Person A initiates an email conversation with Person B and requests a wire transfer to pay for services rendered. Person A supplies the bank details, and Person B agrees to the wire transfer. Various details are discussed, and the transfer is eventually made. There could be 10 or more messages sent by each party in the conversation. Each message between the two is altered by the attacker, crucially including the bank account details for the transfer. Neither party has been communicating with each other, yet both parties would be convinced they are.
Types of Man in the Middle Attack
The goal of a MiTM is to intercept information, usually for financial gain, but there are different ways that this can be achieved. Generally speaking, there are four main ways that a MiTM attack occurs: Packet sniffing, packet injection, session hijacking, and SSL stripping
Packet sniffing is one of the most common MiTM attack methods and is a type of eavesdropping or wiretapping, except it is not phone conversations that are obtained. It is packets of data sent between the two systems. Packet sniffing is much easier when sensitive data is not encrypted, such when information is disclosed between a browser and a HTTP website, rather than HTTPS where the connection is encrypted.
The above email example is a type of packet injection. Data is intercepted, but additional packets are introduced, or data packets are altered. For instance, malware could be introduced.
Session hijacking is where an attacker hijacks a session, such as a session between a browser and a banking website where the user has logged in. In this example, the attacker is the one in control of the session. SSL stripping is where a HTTPS session, which should be secure as the session is encrypted, is stripped of the encryption, turned from HTTPS to HTTP, and data is identified. This latter example is utilized by web filtering solutions that feature SSL inspection. It allows businesses to check for threats in encrypted traffic.
How to Prevent a Man in the Middle Attack
Fortunately, MiTM attacks can be difficult to perform, so the potential for an attack is limited, but there are skilled hackers who can – and do – perform these attacks and gain access to sensitive data and empty bank accounts. One of the most common examples is a coffee shop scenario where an attacker creates an evil twin hotspot. When a user connects to this evil twin – a Wi-Fi network set up to look like the genuine coffee shop Wi-Fi hotspot – all data sent between their browser and the website is intercepted.
There are several steps you can take to prevent a Man in the Middle Attack.
Never disclose sensitive data when connected to an untrusted public Wi-Fi network. Only ever connect via a VPN, and ideally wait until you are on a trusted Wi-Fi network to access online bank accounts.
Ensure the website is protected by an SSL certificate (starts with HTTPS). Bear in mind that hackers also use SSL certificates, so HTTPS does not mean a website is genuine.
Do not use hyperlinks included in emails, always visit the website directly by typing the correct URL into your browser or finding the correct URL through a Google search.
Do not install unauthorized software, apps from third-party app stores, and do not download and use pirated software.
Businesses should implement a DNS filtering solution to protect their workers and prevent them from visiting malicious websites.
Make sure your networks are secured and have appropriate security tools installed.
Disable insecure SSL/TLS protocols on your website (Only TLS 1.1 and TLS 1.2 should be enabled) and implement HSTS.
At face value, SpamTitan and VadeSecure may appear to be equivalent products. In this post we offer a comparison of SpamTitan and VadeSecure to help managed service providers (MSPs) differentiate between the two solutions.
SpamTitan and VadeSecure
SpamTitan and VadeSecure are two email security solutions that block productivity-draining spam emails, phishing emails, and malspam – spam emails that deliver malware or malware downloaders. These cloud-based solutions assess all incoming emails and determine whether they are genuine communications, unwanted spam, or malicious messages and deal with them accordingly to prevent employees from opening the messages.
TitanHQ is the leading provider of cloud-based email and web security solutions for MSPs that serve the SMB market and has been providing email security for MSPs for more than 2 decades. SpamTitan is TitanHQ’s email security offering, which has been developed for SMBs and MSPs that serve the SMB market.
VadeSecure is a French company that has developed an email security solution for the SMB market. As is the case with SpamTitan, VadeSecure offers protection from email-based threats and provides an important extra layer of security, especially for Office 365 environments. The company is now venturing into the MSP market and has recently raised an additional $79 million in venture capital to help it make inroads into the MSP market. However, at present, the solution is primarily geared toward SMBs rather than MSPs that serve them.
Enhanced Phishing Protection for Office 365 Accounts
Office 365 is the most widely used cloud service by user count and 2019 figures show that Office 365 cloud services are used by 1 in 5 corporate employees, with Office 365 email being the most common. With so many businesses using Office 365 for email, it should come as no surprise that Office 365 email accounts are being heavily targeted by hackers and scammers.
Microsoft does have measures in place to block spam and phishing emails, but the level of protection provided by Exchange Online Protection (EOP) is not sufficient for many businesses. A large percentage of phishing emails manage to sneak past Microsoft’s defenses. According to research from Avanan, 25% of phishing emails are delivered to Office 365 inboxes.
Consequently, additional protection is required, and many businesses choose to implement an anti-phishing solution provided by third parties such as SpamTitan and VadeSecure. MSPs also offer third party solutions to block phishing attacks on Office 365 accounts, not only to better protect their customers, but also to reduce the amount of time they spend mitigating phishing attacks that have not been blocked by EOP.
SpamTitan and VadeSecure have been developed to work on top of Office 365 and add an important extra layer of protection for Office 365 email.
Here we will concentrate on a comparison of SpamTitan and VadeSecure with a specific focus on the features and benefits for MSPs rather than SMBs.
Comparison of SpamTitan and VadeSecure for MSPs Serving the SMB Market
Since VadeSecure has historically focused on the Telco market, the email security solution lacks many features to make MSP’s lives easier and does not provide the level of control, flexibility, or the management tools and reports that MSPs seek. SpamTitan has been developed by MSPs for MSPs, so important features for MSPs have always been offered. We will cover these features below, but initially it is useful to include an infographic that summarizes some of the basic features of SpamTitan and VadeSecure for comparison purposes.
Basic Features of SpamTitan and VadeSecure
SpamTitan Features for MSPs Not Offered by VadeSecure
This comparison of SpamTitan and VadeSecure may seem a little one-sided, and that is because VadeSecure is very much focused on end users rather than MSPs. No doubt the solution will be updated to incorporate more MSP-friendly features over time as the company tries to move into the MSP market, but at present, the features below are provided by SpamTitan but are not offered by VadeSecure.
Configuration Flexibility and Customization Potential
One of the biggest bug bears with VadeSecure is the inability to configure the solution to suit the needs of MSPs. It is not possible to create custom rules for instance, and MSPs must therefore use the Exchange Admin functionality of Office 365.
With SpamTitan, MSPs can create rules based on their own requirements and the needs of each individual client, and those rules can be highly granular and can easily be applied to specific groups, users, and for specific domains. That level of granularity and the ease of customization allows MSPs to fine-tune filtering policies to maximize the detection of threats while minimizing false negatives. MSPs can easily select more permissible or more aggressive policies for each client, but with VadeSecure there is no option for customization for each customer.
SpamTitan includes a full multi-tenancy view of all customers, with multiple management roles. This allows MSPs to easily monitor their entire customer base and trial base, assess the health of the deployments, view activity volumes across all customers, and quickly identify issues that require attention. With VadeSecure, there is no possibility of integrating with PSAs and RMMs, and there is no customer-wide view of the entire system.
Highly Granular Reporting
MSPs can tell their clients how important it is to improve their security defenses, but they must also be able to demonstrate that the solutions are proving effective at blocking threats to ensure they can continue to provide those services and receive regular, repeating revenue.
With SpamTitan, MSPs have highly granular reports that give them full visibility into what is happening and a detailed view of system performance. Client reports can easily be generated to show them how effective the solution is and why it is important to keep it in place. Furthermore, this level of reporting – per domain, per group, and at the group domain level – gives MSPs the information they need to identify potential issues and obtain detailed information on spam emails. The solution also has the management capabilities to allow any issues to be quickly identified and corrected to ensure the solution remains effective over time. With VadeSecure, visibility and control options are lacking and there are no options for demonstrating how effective the solution is and to demonstrate that to clients.
High Margins and Significant Revenue Potential
As previously mentioned, the flexibility and scope for customization is a real benefit for MSPs as it allows them to add more value through superior management capabilities. That means MSPs can build solutions that really benefit their clients and it helps them become more of a strategic partner rather than an IT service provider. It is much harder for clients to change a strategic partner than switch IT service providers. VadeSecure lacks this customization which means it is not possible for MSPs to add value to generate reliable, recurring revenue.
Further, with VadeSecure you get one product, but TitanHQ offers a trio of solutions for MSPs to better protect their clients and add more recurring revenue streams. Through the TitanShield for Service Providers program, MSPs also have access to WebTitan DNS filtering and ArcTitan email archiving. This allows MSPs to maximize revenue from each client by cross-selling new services, while also offering a layered security package to protect clients from the full range of email- and web-based threats.
Fully Transparent Pricing
When it comes to pricing, VadeSecure (and many other email security solutions) lack transparency and the pricing model is complex and expensive. Several features are not included as standard with VadeSecure and come at an additional cost. This makes it hard to perform a SpamTitan and VadeSecure pricing comparison.
For instance, with VadeSecure the solution is priced per module, so the Greymail, Spam, and Virus Protection options are not provided as standard and have to be added onto the cost. Based on feedback we have received from MSPs the solution is expensive, which reduces MSP profits and makes the email security solution more difficult to sell to SMBs.
With VadeSecure, the total number of users is not aggregated, which shows a lack of experience of working with MSPs. An MSP with 100 x 10-seat licenses will have that pay at 10 seats each rather than 1,000 seats overall. As such, discounts will be far lower.
With SpamTitan there is just one price which includes all features, including sandboxing, full support, dual anti-virus protection, all security modules, and updates. Furthermore, the price is exceptionally competitive (less than $1 per user). The pricing model was created to incorporate the flexibility for dealing with fluctuating numbers of customers, which often happens when providing managed email services.
Effectiveness at Blocking Threats
Price, usability, and flexibility are all important for MSPs, but features and benefits are the icing on the cake. Email security solutions are used to protect against threats, so the effectiveness of a solution is critical. SpamTitan and VadeSecure are effective at blocking threats and will provide an important additional layer of security for Office 365 users, but feedback we have received from MSPs show there is a clear winner.
VadeSecure includes ‘time-of-click’ protection against embedded hyperlinks, which rewrites URLs and sends them to a scanner. However, MSPs have reported that it can take a long time for phishing emails to be detected, even after threats would be blocked by Chrome. That means that phishing emails are being delivered and there is a window during which a successful attack could occur. This URL click feature only appears to work in OWA or the Outlook client as it is an API integration with Office 365.
SpamTitan includes more advanced detection methods to ensure that malicious URLs are detected and phishing emails are filtered out. SpamTitan includes SURBL filtering and other malicious URL detection mechanisms that complement the default mechanisms in Office 365 such as Recipient Verification Protocols, Sender Policy Frameworks, and Content Filter Agents. This means end users are better protected and there is a much lower probability of a phishing email evading detection.
Dual anti-virus protection is also provided and SpamTitan features a sandbox where suspicious attachments can be safely analyzed for malicious actions. This provides superior protection against malware, ransomware, and zero-day threats that are not detected by the two AV engines.
Any business that processes card payments is a target for cybercriminals, but restaurants in particular are favored by hackers. Over the past few weeks, cybercriminals have stepped up their efforts to attack these businesses and several restaurant chains have had their systems compromised. In all cases, malware has been installed on point-of-sale systems that steals payment card information when diners pay for their meals.
Many of the attacks have hit restaurant chains in the Midwest and East, with credit card data from diners recently having been listed for sale on the underground marketplace, Joker’s Stash. A batch of approximately 4 million credit and debit cards is being offered for sale, which comes from malware attacks at Moe’s, McAlister’s Deli, Krystal, and Schlotzsky’s.
The cyberattack on Krystal was detected in November, with the other three chains, all owned by Focus Brands, attacked in August. In total, the above chains have more than 1,750 restaurants and almost half of those locations, mostly in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and North and South Carolina, were affected.
Catch Hospitality Group also announced in November that it had suffered a cyberattack which had seen malware installed on its point-of-sale system that scraped and exfiltrated payment card data as diners paid for their meals. The data breach affected customers of Catch NYC, Catch Roof, and Catch Steak restaurants. Fortunately, the devices used to process the majority of payments were unaffected. Malware was on the Catch NYC and Catch Roof devices between March 2019 and October 2019, with Catch Steak affected between September 2019 and October 2019.
Church’s Chicken restaurants were also attacked in a separate incident in October. The majority of its 1,000+ restaurants were not affected, but at least 160 restaurants in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas had malware installed on their POS system.
Other restaurant chains that have been attacked in 2019 include Checker’s Drive-In, Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen, Huddle House, Applebee’s, Chilli’s, and Earl Enterprises (Buca di Beppo, Chicken Guy, Tequila Taqueria, Mixology, Planet Hollywood). Malware n the systems of Earl Enterprises had been present for almost a year before it was detected.
How to Improve Restaurant Cybersecurity
Restaurants process many thousands of card transactions which makes them an attractive target for hackers. Restaurants often use out-of-date operating systems, have vulnerability-ridden legacy hardware, and their cybersecurity solutions often leave a lot to be desired. Consequently, cyberattacks on restaurants are relatively easy to perform, at least compared to many other types of businesses.
In order to infect the POS system, the attackers will need network access. That is most commonly gained via phishing emails, drive-by malware downloads, or by abusing remote access tools. Direct attacks are also possible using techniques such as SQL injection and weak passwords can be easily guessed using brute force tactics.
The malware that sits on systems and exfiltrates data tends to have a very small footprint and is often stealthy as it needs to be present for long periods of time to collect payment card data. That can make it hard to detect when it has been installed. The key to security is therefore improving defenses to make sure the malware is not installed in the first place, which means preventing the attackers from gaining access to the network.
Listed below are some easy-to-implement steps that will help restaurants improve their security posture and block attacks. The key is defense in depth through layered security.
Use an enterprise-grade firewall –Ensure an enterprise-grade firewall is purchased. A firewall will prevent unauthorized individuals from gaining access to your network resources.
Patch promptly and update all software and firmware – Ensure patches are applied promptly and software and firmware updates are implemented when they are released. That includes all systems and networked devices, not just your POS.
Upgrade hardware – When your hardware is approaching end of life it is time to upgrade. Unsupported hardware (and software) will no longer be updated and vulnerabilities will no longer be fixed.
Lockdown your POS: Use whitelisting or otherwise lock down POS systems to make it harder for malware to operate. Only allow trusted apps to run on your POS systems.
Install powerful antivirus software – Ensure all devices are protected by a powerful anti-virus solution and that it is set to update virus definitions automatically. Regularly scan the network for malware, especially your POS.
Implement an intrusion detection system – These systems monitor the network for unusual activity that could indicate a malware infection, attackers searching the network for the POS system, and unusual traffic that could indicate data exfiltration.
Change all default passwords and set strong passwords – To protect against brute force attacks, ensure strong passwords are set on all systems and all default passwords are changed. Also implement rate limiting to block attempts to access a system or device after a set number of failed password attempts.
Implement a powerful spam filtering solution – A powerful email security solution, such as SpamTitan, is required to prevent spam and malicious emails from being delivered to end users. Even if you have Office 365, you will need a third-party email security solution to block email-based threats.
Restrict Internet access with a DNS filter – A DNS filter such as WebTitan provides protection against drive-by malware downloads and web-based phishing attacks. WebTitan will block all known malicious websites and those with a low trust score. The solution can also be configured to prevent employees from accessing categories of websites where malware downloads are more likely.
Disable Remote Access if Possible – Disable Remote Desktop Protocol and all remote access tools. If remote access tools are required to allow essential maintenance work to be completed, ensure they can only used via a VPN and restrict the people who can use those tools.