Man in the middle attacks

A fair number of security advisories mention Man In The Middle (MITM) attacks. It’s quite an evocative phrase, but it’s a phrase meant mainly for the infosec community; it doesn’t help your typical end user understand the risks. So what is a MITM attack, and how can I avoid becoming a victim? Before we get into technology let’s look at something we all know about; the boring snail mail postal system.