Eavesdropping- the act of silently overhearing a conversation among random strangers; (although rude), what harm could it possibly do? Well, not much if someone is just innocently listening to a conversation that interests them. However, it could cost a fortune if a malicious actor stealthily interferes with critical digital communication. In cyberspace, it is called an “Eavesdropping attack.”
What is an Eavesdropping attack?
Eavesdropping attack, also known as sniffing or snooping attack, happens when an unauthorized party steals, modifies or deletes essential information that is transmitted between two electronic devices.
Here’s an example-
A remote employee connects over an open network and sends across some vital business information to his colleague. The information is being transmitted over the open network, and the cyber attacker silently intrudes all the information on the network traffic. Now, to prevent an Eavesdropping attack, the employee may choose to connect over a Virtual Private Network, which is relatively safer than an open network. But this again isn’t a full-proof method (especially if you don’t know how secure is your VPN) to combat eavesdropping attack; the attacker places a piece of software or network sniffers in the network pathway that will monitor, record and gather all the critical business information.
As Tom King, applications and security manager at 3i, writes- Eavesdropping attacks are insidious because it’s difficult to know they are occurring. Once connected to a network, users may unwittingly feed sensitive information — passwords, account numbers, surfing habits, content of email messages — to an attacker.
Let’s now understand about the different scenarios that attackers leverage on for a malicious Eavesdropping attack.
- Weak Passwords: by choosing weak passwords, that can be compromised easily, you are leaving the door to a confidential communication channel wide open. Once the attacker possesses your password, he can easily join the network on which valuable business information is being exchanged.
- Working remotely: employees working in the office premises conform to the security standards and are connected to a secure network. However, remote employees may connect their devices to a weak or insecure network that could be prone to an eavesdropping attack
- Frail networks: connecting to open networks that do not even require passwords for access and transmits information without encryption is an ideal set up for an attacker to carry an eavesdropping attack.
Now that you know how an eavesdropping attack essentially takes place, you may question.
What is the impact of the Eavesdropping attack?
Here’s a real-life scenario of Eavesdropping attack-
We have all been intrigued by the proliferation of intelligent assistants such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home that make our lives simpler. However, the users of Amazon Alexa and Google Home were eavesdropped on by cyber attackers.
First, the attackers developed harmless applications and got them reviewed by Amazon and Google. Once reviewed, the apps were modified into a malicious one. The app triggered a “goodbye” in response to “stop” followed by a long pause, leading the user to believe that the app is closed off completely, the users were eavesdropped on during the ‘long pause’, capturing and transferring critical and sensitive information to the hackers.
Now, Alexa and Google Home are widely used by businesses around the world for better productivity and operational efficiency. However, if business fell victim to eavesdropping attack as mentioned in the above scenario, it could experience the one or all following implications-
- Loss of privacy: Every business has confidential information that could lead the organization astray if it becomes public. While eavesdropping, the attackers will absorb vital business information, ideas and conversations being exchanged within the organization, thereby affecting its privacy
- Identity theft: Say, two employees are having a conversation about their access to critical applications. One of them says, “my password to application XYZ has been changed from abdcde to 1234” now, the attacker who has been eavesdropping on their conversation has easy access to their credentials; will easily access the application and steal all the important information.
- Financial loss: Once the cyber attacker has vital business information, essential database or passwords to vital business applications, it can be used to full advantage by exposing the data or selling it to the competitors; the attackers will earn, and the organization will lose in millions.
Undeniably, eavesdropping attacks will have some serious impact on the organization so let’s address a critical question.
How to prevent Eavesdropping attacks?
- Military-grade encryption: encryption is a great way to defend an eavesdropping attack. In case an attacker manages to intervene between a communication, he would be successful only if he can read the data that is being exchanged. By using a 256-bit, also known as military-grade encryption, the attacker may gather the data via eavesdropping, but the data will still be safe as it will take him around 500 billion years to decode it.
- Spread awareness: training and informing the employees of the organization about cybersecurity is of utmost importance. An employee, unaware of cybercrimes such as eavesdropping attacks may unknowingly put the organization at risk. So, the employee should have complete knowledge about eavesdropping attacks before he/she downloads an application, software or connects over a weak network.
- Network segmentation: it is ideal to split the computer network and allowing only certain teams or key personnel to connect to the network; for instance, the marketing team does not need to access the HR system. Network division or segmenting helps in decongesting the network traffic, improves security and prevents unwanted connectivity.
We live in a digitally connected world that allows us to exchange important and interesting business information, ideas, and data to one another, effortlessly.
So, let’s be aware of the malicious eavesdroppers and take vigilant steps in making sure that all our information is reaching only the right person and is not intercepted by a cybercriminal.