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IP address spoofing
In computer networking, the term IP address spoofing or IP spoofing refers to the creation of Internet Protocol (IP) packets with a forged source IP address, called spoofing, with the purpose of concealing the identity of the sender or impersonating another computing system.
The basic protocol for sending data over the Internet network and many other computer networks is the Internet Protocol ("IP"). The header of each IP packet contains, among other things, the numerical source and destination address of the packet. The source address is normally the address that the packet was sent from. By forging the header so it contains a different address, an attacker can make it appear that the packet was sent by a different machine. The machine that receives spoofed packets will send response back to the forged source address, which means that this technique is mainly used when the attacker does not care about the response or the attacker has some way of guessing the response.
In certain cases, it might be possible for the attacker to see or redirect the response to his own machine. The most usual case is when the attacker is spoofing an address on the same LAN or WAN. Hence the attackers have an unauthorized access over computers.
The concept of IP spoofing, was initially discussed in academic circles in the 1980's. While known about for sometime, it was primarily theoretical until Robert Morris, whose son wrote the first Internet Worm, discovered a security weakness in the TCP protocol known as sequence prediction. Stephen Bellovin discussed the problem in-depth in Security Problems in the TCP/IP Protocol Suite, a paper that addressed design problems with the TCP/IP protocol suite. Another infamous attack, Kevin Mitnick's Christmas Day crack of Tsutomu Shimomura's machine, employed the IP spoofing and TCP sequence prediction techniques. While the popularity of such cracks has decreased due to the demise of the services they exploited, spoofing can still be used and needs to be addressed by all security administrators.
IP spoofing is most frequently used in denial-of-service attacks. In such attacks, the goal is to flood the victim with overwhelming amounts of traffic, and the attacker does not care about receiving responses to the attack packets. Packets with spoofed addresses are thus suitable for such attacks. They have additional advantages for this purpose—they are more difficult to filter since each spoofed packet appears to come from a different address, and they hide the true source of the attack. Denial of service attacks that use spoofing typically randomly choose addresses from the entire IP address space, though more sophisticated spoofing mechanisms might avoid unroutable addresses or unused portions of the IP address space. The proliferation of large botnets makes spoofing less important in denial of service attacks, but attackers typically have spoofing available as a tool, if they want to use it, so defenses against denial-of-service attacks that rely on the validity of the source IP address in attack packets might have trouble with spoofed packets. Backscatter, a technique used to observe denial-of-service attack activity in the Internet, relies on attackers' use of IP spoofing for its effectiveness.
IP spoofing can also be a method of attack used by network intruders to defeat network security measures, such as authentication based on IP addresses. This method of attack on a remote system can be extremely difficult, as it involves modifying thousands of packets at a time. This type of attack is most effective where trust relationships exist between machines. For example, it is common on some corporate networks to have internal systems trust each other, so that users can log in without a username or password provided they are connecting from another machine on the internal network (and so must already be logged in). By spoofing a connection from a trusted machine, an attacker may be able to access the target machine without an authentication.
Why Spoof the IP Source Address?
What is the advantage of sending a spoofed packet? It is that the sender has some kind of malicious intention and does not want to be identified. You can use the source address in the header of an IP datagram to trace the sender's location. Most systems keep logs of Internet activity, so if attackers want to hide their identity, they need to change the source address. The host receiving the spoofed packet responds to the spoofed address, so the attacker receives no reply back from the victim host. But if the spoofed address belongs to a host on the same subnet as the attacker, then the attacker can "sniff" the reply. You can use IP spoofing for several purposes; for some scenarios an attacker might want to inspect the response from the target victim (called "nonblind spoofing"), whereas in other cases the attacker might not care (blind spoofing). Following is a discussion about reasons to spoof an IP packet.
Internet Protocol – IP
Internet protocol (IP) is a network protocol operating at layer 3 (network) of the OSI model. It is a connectionless model, meaning there is no information regarding transaction state, which is used to route packets on a network. Additionally, there is no method in place to ensure that a packet is properly delivered to the destination.
Examining the IP header, we can see that the first 12 bytes (or the top 3 rows of the header) contain various information about the packet. The next 8 bytes (the next 2 rows), however, contains the source and destination IP addresses. Using one of several tools, an attacker can easily modify these addresses – specifically the “source address” field. It's important to note that each datagram is sent independent of all others due to the stateless nature of IP. Keep this fact in mind as we examine TCP in the next section.
Transmission Control Protocol – TCP
IP can be thought of as a routing wrapper for layer 4 (transport), which contains the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP). Unlike IP, TCP uses a connection-oriented design. This means that the participants in a TCP session must first build a connection - via the 3-way handshake (SYN-SYN/ACK-ACK) - then update one another on progress - via sequences and acknowledgements. This “conversation”, ensures data reliability, since the sender receives an OK from the recipient after each packet exchange.
As you can see above, a TCP header is very different from an IP header. We are concerned with the first 12 bytes of the TCP packet, which contain port and sequencing information. Much like an IP datagram, TCP packets can be manipulated using software. The source and destination ports normally depend on the network application in use (for example, HTTP via port 80). What's important for our understanding of spoofing are the sequence and acknowledgement numbers. The data contained in these fields ensures packet delivery by determining whether or not a packet needs to be resent. The sequence number is the number of the first byte in the current packet, which is relevant to the data stream. The acknowledgement number, in turn, contains the value of the next expected sequence number in the stream. This relationship confirms, on both ends, that the proper packets were received. It’s quite different than IP, since transaction state is closely monitored.
Consequences of the TCP/IP Design
Now that we have an overview of the TCP/IP formats, let's examine the consequences. Obviously, it's very easy to mask a source address by manipulating an IP header. This technique is used for obvious reasons and is employed in several of the attacks discussed below. Another consequence, specific to TCP, is sequence number prediction, which can lead to session hijacking or host impersonating. This method builds on IP spoofing, since a session, albeit a false one, is built. We will examine the ramifications of this in the attacks discussed below.
There are a few variations on the types of attacks that successfully employ IP spoofing. Although some are relatively dated, others are very pertinent to current security concerns.
This type of attack takes place when the attacker is on the same subnet as the victim. The sequence and acknowledgement numbers can be sniffed, eliminating the potential difficulty of calculating them accurately. The biggest threat of spoofing in this instance would be session hijacking. This is accomplished by corrupting the datastream of an established connection, then re-establishing it based on correct sequence and acknowledgement numbers with the attack machine. Using this technique, an attacker could effectively bypass any authentication measures taken place to build the connection.
This is a more sophisticated attack, because the sequence and acknowledgement numbers are unreachable. In order to circumvent this, several packets are sent to the target machine in order to sample sequence numbers. While not the case today, machines in the past used basic techniques for generating sequence numbers. It was relatively easy to discover the exact formula by studying packets and TCP sessions. Today, most OSs implement random sequence number generation, making it difficult to predict them accurately. If, however, the sequence number was compromised, data could be sent to the target. Several years ago, many machines used host-based authentication services (i.e. Rlogin). A properly crafted attack could add the requisite data to a system (i.e. a new user account), blindly, enabling full access for the attacker who was impersonating a trusted host.