What Is SSL Stripping & How To Avoid It?
It is the ongoing job of website owners to protect their site’s data and keep private information about their customers secure. All these security advancements and efforts have not discouraged hackers who keep coming up with creative ways to steal encrypted data. That is why data protection is very critical. To mitigate against these malicious threats and attacks, websites owners use SSL certificates along with other security measures.
What are SSL Certificates?
Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) Certificate is an international standard security technology that facilitates encrypted communication between a web browser and a web server. It protects sensitive data about you as it travels over the internet. It facilitates private communication between the intended parties. Having an SSL certificate also helps to boost your SEO ranking.
Millions of companies and individuals worldwide use SSL Certificates to significantly decrease the risk of sensitive information, such as full names, credit card credentials, usernames, emails and passwords from being stolen and tampered with by hackers.
The two main functions of your SSL certificate are:
- To authenticate your website’s identity guaranteeing visitors that they’re on your website and not on a bogus site.
- Encrypt all the data being transmitted.
Are All SSL Certificates The Same?
No, not all SSL certificates are the same. There are different types of SSL certificates depending on the number of domain names or subdomains you own. Here’s a breakdown of them.
- Single SSL Certificate – This protects only one fully-qualified domain name or subdomain name.
- Wildcard SSL Certificate - Provides security for one domain name and an unlimited number of its subdomains.
- Multi-Domain SSL Certificate – Covers multiple domain names including the level of validation required. The levels of validation include:
- Domain Validation: this is the cheapest level offering basic encryption and verification of ownership of the domain name registration.
- Organisation Validation: In addition to offering the features of domain validation, this level also authenticates certain details such as the owner’s name and address. o
- Extended Validation (VD) : This offers the highest level of security by conducting a thorough examination before issuing the certificate. In addition to providing ownership of the domain name registration and entity authentication, it verifies the legal, physical and operational existence of the entity.
What is SSL Stripping?
As mentioned before, having SSL certificates is a critical part of securing your website. SSL stripping occurs when an attacker infiltrates the communication between user and website by downgrading a Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) connection to HTTP. HTTP is an outdated and less secure protocol. The hacker or ‘man-in-the-middle’ (MitM) then intercepts all the requests the user makes to your website’s server and redirects them to their bogus site. There the hacker can easily collect private information such as logins, passwords, and financial credentials with the HTTP.
Most users will not have a clue that they have been redirected, since the page will look practically the same as the secure one they intended to visit.
How Does SSL Stripping Work?
SSL stripping is another form of man-in-the-middle attack. First, the attackers will gain access to the websites server. Then they will intercept the request that a user makes when trying to connect to the server.
That way the hacker receives the server’s response first and then relay it to the victim in an unencrypted format, posing as the server. The user, not knowing that the site is no longer SSL- secure, will continue the process of sending personal information to the hacker, who will then relay it to the server in HTTPS and vice versa.
How Can Users Know When There is an SSL Stripping attack
- HTTPS Everywhere: It is important to download the HTTPS Everywhere browser extension. It will force you browsers to send information only over HTTPS websites.
- Virtual Private Networks (VPN): A VPN will give users a layer of secure encryption, regardless of the sites they are on. Even if a website has been downgraded to HTTP, the data will remain encrypted.
- Avoid Public Wi-Fi: Be mindful of how you use public Wi-Fi networks, especially whenever you are sending sensitive information, like your credit card credentials.
- Look Out For HTTPS: If you do not see HTTPS in front of the URL, just don’t click on it.
- Beware of Malicious Links: If a link looks suspicious don’t click on it.
How to Prevent SSL Stripping?
One of the best ways to safeguard your website from SSL stripping is to always install an SSL Certificate throughout all areas of your website. That means that you should ensure that your entire site’s content such as logins, article, pictures, files and videos are encrypted with an HTTPS-configured SSL certificate.
Also, when buying an SSL Certificate, be sure to look for and add a Wildcard option which will allow you to use your SSL on an unlimited number of subdomains and servers for enhanced security. An Organisation Validation (OV) or Extended Validation (EV) SSL certificate will also improve the level of security on your site by confirming its authenticity.
Another layer of security that is able to stop SSL stripping is HSTS (Strict Transport Security) . HSTS preload gives instruction to the browser to only connect via HTTPS and not HTTP.
Additionally, ensure that your local network is secure and only unauthorized parties have access to it. This is important as SSL hijacking and stripping requires access to your local network. For companies, setting up firewalls is another way of preventing outside parties from accessing your local network, so hackers cannot stage MitM attacks.
We are all producers and consumers of information via the internet and as such must all be vigilant and constantly on the lookout for signs of potential hacking such as SSL stripping.
On a corporate level, ensuring your site is an SSL-secure site is essential in protecting yours and your customer’s information. One of the fastest, easiest and most secure ways to protect everyone is by making sure your site is SSL-secure.