Is your connection private?
We might believe nobody is spying on us when no cameras are around. Unfortunately, if you’re online, you could be getting spied on without knowing it.
Cyber-attacks have become part of our lives, thanks to the widespread penetration of the Internet. These attacks come in different forms, many of which are very well hidden – so much so that it may take an expert to find out if you’ve been attacked and how.
As a result, detecting an online spy who may be combing through your web activity and personal information can take a long time. Thankfully, packet sniffing is one helpful technique for figuring out when someone is snooping.
Unfortunately, though, packet sniffing can also be used for bad deeds. That’s because, on their way to their destination, data travel through many network points whenever you use the Internet. During that journey, bad actors can intercept information through packet sniffing.
In this article, we’ll tell you all about packet sniffing and how to avoid it.
Data fragments traveling through a network or the Internet are packets. These packets can be monitored and gathered while in transit using a method known as packet sniffing.
Packet sniffing tools can be either hardware or software, and they help monitor and gather data for various reasons. For network administrators, packet sniffing tools are handy for monitoring and authenticating all network traffic. However, cybercriminals can use the same packet sniffing tools for a to perform cyberattacks, such as:
- Spying to collect private data;
- Stealing sensitive information like passwords and personal details;
- Introducing malware;
- Monitoring a user’s online routine, and more.
Such cybercriminals have several ways through which they can initiate a packet sniffing campaign. One of the most common methods is phishing, which can attack a system or network with spyware that then kicks off a packet sniffing attempt.
But remember, packet sniffing isn’t only for the bad guys – you can also use this method to reveal faults. For instance, administrators can use data gathered by hardware packet sniffers to spot various issues, such as network response or request failures.
We mentioned that packets are data fragments traveling through a network. Those data fragments are pieces of information about the sender and what’s being sent. They include identifying information such as the sender’s IP address, information about the purpose of the data, and more. These packets help the receiver identify the sender and data and decrypt or rearrange the fragments.
As you’d expect, the packets are vulnerable to attack in transit. An attack could be silent, such as monitoring and gathering the packets for analysis. If bad actors like cybercriminals intercept packets, they can decrypt or rearrange the fragments with a packet sniffing tool.
While the concept of packet sniffing is passive, it can also be active. Here’s a brief look at the two types of packet sniffing methods:
- 1. Active sniffing
This method involves a direct interaction between the attacker and the network. The attacker actively sends packets and gets responses from the machine.
- 2. Passive sniffing
Here, the attacker doesn’t actively interact with the target network. Instead, the packet sniffing tool monitors and gathers the transmitted data. Because it is passive, the tool waits for packets to be sent and received naturally before any fragments can be sniffed.
Packet sniffing is not illegal. After all, as we’ve mentioned, sniffing can be used to detect issues within a network. So even if cybercriminals can abuse it, it remains a useful tool with the legal objective of monitoring network data and analyzing it to determine its performance.
Businesses can use packet sniffers to manage bandwidth, improve security, boost efficiency, and more. Tech giants like Facebook and Google can use packet sniffing to engage with users and monitor their habits, gather data about their preferences, and so on. However, those same packets can be stolen, giving cybercriminals access to sensitive information like passwords, or modifying that information before it gets to the receiver.
Here are a few tips to help keep your data fragments from being sniffed by bad actors:
- Avoid unsecured networks
Public WiFi networks might seem like a gift whenever you can access one for free, but always remember that these networks are wide open and unsecured. There’s a great chance that your public WiFi doesn’t have any antivirus software or firewall, making your data highly vulnerable to malicious packet sniffing whenever you use one.
- Use a VPN
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) masks your connections to keep your online activity private. This encryption works best if you use a quality, premium VPN service. Several free VPN services can slow down your network, steal your information, and even introduce malware to your system.
- Use an antivirus
A quality antivirus software can protect your network from various cyberattacks, including viruses, worms, etc.
- Avoid unsecured websites
Secured websites begin with “https”, while unsecured sites use “http”. The “s” signifies that the website is secured or encrypted. Visiting an unsecured website opens your system to a range of potential attacks.
Final words – Who else benefits from packet sniffing?
Surveillance capitalism is all around us and far more pervasive and intrusive than one might think. Packet sniffing is just one way through which global technology companies like Facebook and Google gather data about you, your movements, habits, and preferences. The goal is to populate a profile with details relating to you. Once they have that, they can use propensity modeling (the math of associating personal traits with commercial outcomes like ‘What you want to buy next’) to start marketing the products you are more likely to be interested in.
Be under no illusion – while packet sniffing is one way bad actors and others can gather your data, it is not the only one. Consider VPN software to remove some of the possibility that your data is being sniffed and abused because, in reality, it will take a far-reaching government intervention to alter which types of data can be collected from you without your knowledge or consent.