What is an SSL stripping attack

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SSL stripping is a type of cyber-attack that targets the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) or Transport Layer Security (TLS) protocols, which are used to encrypt and secure data transmission over the internet. The primary purpose of SSL/TLS is to ensure that sensitive information, such as login credentials, financial data, and personal information, remains confidential and cannot be intercepted by malicious actors.

An SSL stripping attack occurs when an attacker actively intercepts the communication between a user and a website or online service, and then downgrades the secure SSL/TLS connection to an unencrypted or plaintext HTTP connection. The attacker achieves this by exploiting the fact that most users do not manually type “https://” when accessing websites, relying instead on their browsers to automatically redirect them to the secure version.

The typical steps of an SSL stripping attack are as follows:

1.    The attacker sets up a man-in-the-middle position between the user and the server. This can be done through various methods, such as ARP spoofing, DNS spoofing, or by compromising a vulnerable Wi-Fi network.

2.    When the user attempts to connect to a website that uses SSL/TLS (e.g., “https://www.example.com”), the attacker intercepts the initial request.

3.    The attacker responds to the user with a fake response, indicating that the website does not support HTTPS and suggesting the use of an unsecured connection (e.g.,”http://www.example.com”).

4.    The user’s browser, being unaware of the attacker’s actions, accepts the insecure response and proceeds to connect to the unencrypted version of the website.

5.    Subsequently, all data exchanged between the user and the website is transmitted in plaintext, making it susceptible to interception and eavesdropping by the attacker.

6.    This attack is particularly dangerous because the user does not receive any warning signs (such as a certificate error) since the attacker is not attempting to impersonate the website directly. Instead, the attacker exploits the user’s preference for unencrypted connections and leverages the laxity of the browser to automatically accept the downgrade.

To defend against SSL stripping attacks, users should be cautious about the websites they visit and avoid accessing sensitive information over unsecured networks. Website administrators should enforce the use of HTTPS and HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS) to prevent browsers from accepting unencrypted connections. Additionally, using browser extensions that force HTTPS connections can also add an extra layer of protection.

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Naveen Goud is a writer at Cybersecurity Insiders covering topics such as Mergers & Acquisitions, Startups, Cyber Attacks, Cloud Security and Mobile Security

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