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I've just started reading IT Security, and found some interesting reads on man-in-the-middle and different types of "attacks" that could be used by an enterprise to intercept communications on their network.

This got me thinking. What things are ISPs capable of seeing/intercepting and what could one do to lessen this?

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All of your internet traffic goes through the ISP, so there's a lot they can see. Basically all plain-text transmissions can be viewed by your ISP. There are a few things you can do to prevent this:

  • Use HTTPS whenever possible. ISPs won't be able to read the contents of HTTPS messages, but they can interpret HTTP messages. This is generally true for any party that can perform MITM attacks, not just your ISP.

  • Even if you use HTTPS, your ISP will still know who you are sending traffic to. If you want to prevent this, you can use anonymous browsing software(ex. Tor) to prevent your ISP from knowing who you're talking to (although they will know that you are using this software)

  • If you are using BitTorrent, your ISP can generally detect that you are doing this. You can encrypt this data as well (depending on your BitTorrent client), but your ISP can generally still deduce that you are running a BitTorrent client (though they won't know what you are downloading).

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There's a few points to be made here. Tor is only secure when used properly, so make sure you use their browser bundle or their LiveCD. Also, w.r.t. BitTorrent - your ISP probably has a clause in their ToS about what they can and cannot do. One of them is usually that they don't inspect the payload of your packets. You can even turn on protocol encryption to ensure you're safe against it. However, it is possible to identify BitTorrent traffic by the patterns of transfer, without ever seeing a single byte of payload. –  Polynomial May 1 '12 at 7:35

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