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Active Attacks vs. Passive Attacks: What's the Difference?

By Janet White || Published on February 16, 2024
Active attacks involve altering or disrupting system operations, while passive attacks involve unauthorized data monitoring without affecting the system.

Key Differences

Active attacks involve an attacker actively trying to alter system resources or affect their operations. Passive attacks, conversely, involve the unauthorized interception or monitoring of data without any alteration.
In an active attack, the attacker engages with the system, potentially modifying data or creating false statements. A passive attack is more about eavesdropping or data surveillance, without any direct interaction or alteration of the data.
Active attacks are usually detectable due to their nature of altering data or affecting system performance. Passive attacks, on the other hand, are stealthier and harder to detect as they do not involve direct interaction with the system.
The goal of active attacks is often to disrupt normal operations, corrupt data, or steal credentials by direct intervention. Passive attacks aim to gather information, such as user habits or sensitive data, without direct intervention.
Examples of active attacks include virus distribution, denial of service attacks, or session hijacking. Passive attacks include network monitoring and traffic analysis, where the attacker remains hidden and silent.

Comparison Chart


Involves direct engagement with the target system.
Involves stealthy monitoring or interception of information.


More detectable due to active interference.
Harder to detect, as they don’t alter or disrupt normal operations.


To alter, disrupt, or destroy data or system operations.
To secretly gather information without affecting the system.


Hacking into a system, planting malware, initiating a DDoS attack.
Eavesdropping on network traffic, monitoring unsecured communications.


Can cause immediate and noticeable harm or disruption.
Often undetected, causing potential long-term information leakage.

Active Attacks and Passive Attacks Definitions

Active Attacks

Active attacks are direct attempts to compromise or exploit a target system.
Breaking into a secure database and altering records is an active attack.

Passive Attacks

Passive attacks involve unauthorized listening to or monitoring of data transmissions.
Wiretapping to intercept data transmissions without altering them is a passive attack.

Active Attacks

Active attacks involve deliberate actions to alter, disrupt, or destroy system data or operations.
The hacker launched an active attack by injecting malware into the network.

Passive Attacks

Passive attacks include eavesdropping on communications without modifying the information.
Monitoring network traffic to gather passwords is a form of passive attack.

Active Attacks

Active attacks include any offensive maneuvers that harm an information system.
A DDoS attack overwhelmed the server, a clear instance of an active attack.

Passive Attacks

Passive attacks involve observing or analyzing systems to extract information.
Using a sniffer to log internet traffic without detection is a passive attack.

Active Attacks

Active attacks involve an assailant attempting to breach a system’s security.
The active attack was evident when unauthorized changes were made to our website.

Passive Attacks

Passive attacks are stealth operations to gather data without affecting system resources.
Silently capturing data packets to analyze later is a passive attack.

Active Attacks

Active attacks consist of actions that actively interfere with a target's operations or data.
Sending phishing emails to employees is part of an active attack strategy.

Passive Attacks

Passive attacks are about information gathering without system interaction or alteration.
Passive attacks were evident from the unauthorized surveillance of email communications.


What is an active attack?

An active attack is a deliberate attempt to alter, disrupt, or destroy a computer system, network, or its data.

Are active attacks more harmful than passive attacks?

Active attacks are immediately harmful, while passive attacks pose long-term risks.

What is the main goal of an active attack?

The main goal is to disrupt, corrupt, or steal data by directly engaging with the system.

What is an example of a passive attack?

Listening in on network communications to gather confidential information is an example.

Are passive attacks easily detectable?

No, passive attacks are stealthy and hard to detect as they do not involve direct interaction with the system.

Can passive attacks turn into active attacks?

Yes, information gathered from passive attacks can lead to active attacks.

What is the objective of passive attacks?

The objective is to gather information or data stealthily, without system interference.

Do active attacks require more technical skill than passive attacks?

Generally, active attacks require more technical skills to execute and maintain.

What are common tools used in active attacks?

Malware, hacking software, and exploitation tools are common in active attacks.

How can organizations defend against passive attacks?

Encrypting data and securing communication channels help in defending against passive attacks.

What is a passive attack?

A passive attack involves monitoring or eavesdropping on a system without affecting its operations.

How are active attacks detected?

Active attacks are usually detectable due to their disruptive nature and system alterations.

Is data encryption effective against passive attacks?

Yes, encryption is an effective way to prevent data interception in passive attacks.

Can passive attacks lead to data breaches?

Yes, passive attacks can lead to data breaches through undetected information gathering.

What is an example of an active attack?

An example is launching a denial-of-service (DoS) attack to shut down a network.

What tools are used in passive attacks?

Network sniffers and monitoring software are often used in passive attacks.

How can organizations protect against active attacks?

Implementing strong security measures and regular system monitoring can protect against active attacks.

Is phishing considered an active attack?

Yes, phishing is an active attack as it involves direct interaction to deceive users.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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