Today, most cybersecurity professionals express support for HTTPS and its encryption capabilities. And that’s because having an HTTPS-enabled website is a fundamental way of protecting both the site and its visitors.
HTTPS ensures a secure tunnel through which data can travel. However, SSL stripping or SSL downgrade attacks are a type of threat that shows why people can’t trust that their connection is secure.
Here’s a quick breakdown of what this type of attack entails, and how users and businesses can avoid having their data leaked or stolen.
How Does HTTPS Work?
HTTPS is the secure application-layer protocol used to transfer and receive data, usually between a client and a server. It makes use of a secure tunnel in the form of Secure Socket Layer (SSL) to do this.
Most websites use HTTPS these days to ensure that any information that’s communicated between them and a visitor stays confidential. While there’s obviously complex jargon and processes at work here, it is just a basic description of HTTPS for those who don’t know how it works.
What is an SSL Stripping Attack?
When people connect to a website, HTTPs don’t necessarily secure their connection automatically. A user will first send an insecure HTTP request when visiting a website. The site will then respond in HTTP or redirect the connection to HTTPS if the website has an SSL certificate. It means there’s a brief moment when the connection is not secure.
Attackers swoop in during that brief stage and intervene by masking themselves as the user making the connection. They act as a “middleman,” having the secure connection sent to them while sending a not secure (HTTP) connection back to the user. That way, they can intercept any information the person sends on to the website without being noticed.
In the end, the website thinks it’s sending a secure connection to the user. Meanwhile, the user doesn’t realize anything is wrong and continues as usual.
The problem is that this threat doesn’t just persist for websites. Hackers can direct it towards WiFi networks as well. The Krack Attacks demonstrated that modern routers that use the WPA2 protocol (which is the standard worldwide) are also vulnerable.
Why is It So Dangerous?
Because people share a lot of valuable and confidential personal information with websites. Consider the online transactions that occur on online stores, online banking, or include sensitive information, like on government websites.
Even logging into social media can be a problem. When the connection is in plain text over HTTP, third-parties can steal login details and passwords.
How to Prevent SSL Stripping Attacks
The best way to stay safe during this type of attack is to use a VPN. It won’t work for website owners, but it will help individual users and businesses whose employees send confidential information over the internet.
A VPN can counteract attackers’ efforts to change the connection to HTTP (and thus having data sent in plain text) because they encrypt connections. It means that the connection is still private and secure, and the attackers won’t be able to see anything.
There are many VPN services out there, thanks to how popular this technology has become recently. So finding an excellent VPN service that offers great features and fitting-your-budget pricing shouldn’t be too hard.
SSL and HTTPS are necessary for additional protection from attackers, but it’s crucial to remember that nothing is infallible. SSL stripping attacks are a perfect example of why. That’s why a layered security approach is so essential. Always make sure to have a back-up security tool or software in place.