Eavesdropping attacks happen when cyber criminals or attackers listen in to network traffic traveling over computers, servers, mobile devices and Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Network eavesdropping, also known as network snooping or sniffing, occurs when malicious actors exploit insecure or vulnerable networks to read or steal data as it travels between two devices. Eavesdropping is most common for wireless communication.
Here's a closer look at eavesdropping attacks and how to guard against them.
How do eavesdropping attacks work?
Eavesdropping attacks are made possible when a connection between two endpoints (think a client and server) is weak or not secure. Insecure network connections exist when encryption isn't used, when applications or devices aren't up to date, or when malware is present.
With an insecure network connection—typically a Wi-Fi hotspot or websites not running the HTTPS protocol—data packets traveling across the network could be intercepted. That data might be your web, email or messaging traffic or any confidential corporate data.
But how do hackers "sniff" this data? Many legitimate sniffer programs were created for network monitoring and vulnerability management and to be used by security teams. Of course, these applications can also be exploited for nefarious purposes by cyber criminals.
Sophisticated attackers use social engineering methods like phishing to install malware and sniffing programs onto victims' networks.
Understanding the risks
The goal of eavesdropping attacks is simple: steal confidential and valuable data by peeking at insecure or unencrypted traffic.
For attackers, the potential bounty from an eavesdropping attack can be significant. Up for grabs is anything from credit card information to personally identifiable information (PII), customer or employee passwords, and intellectual property. With the rise of IoT, more devices are on business networks than ever before.