An Introduction to IP Spoofing and How to Prevent it

No matter what medium, identity theft is always a concern. Malicious users can quickly gain credibility by using “IP spoofing”, which is an easy way to get instant credibility for their hacking efforts.

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Given that every computer and server has a unique identifier (an “internet protocol” — or IP — address), almost anyone using the internet could be vulnerable. IP spoofing is a way to “fake” the appearance of a source address (such as an email address) as an impersonation technique. It can come in various forms, so you have to be on your guard.

Throughout this post, we will talk about IP spoofing, what it is, why you’re a target, and more. We’ll also talk about some of the most common IP spoofing attacks you will come up against, as well as some legitimate uses for IP spoofing.

What Is IP Spoofing?

In a general sense, IP spoofing takes a portion of the data you send over the internet and makes it seem as though it’s from a legitimate source. IP spoofing is a wide-ranging term for many different attacks:

IP address spoofing: This is a straightforward obfuscation of the attacker’s IP address to conduct denial-of-service (DoS) attacks, and more.Domain name server (DNS) spoofing: This will modify the source IP of the DNS to redirect a domain name to a different IP.Address resolution protocol (ARP) spoofing: An ARP spoofing attempt is one of the more complex attacks. It involves linking a computer’s media access control (MAC) address to a legitimate IP using spoofed ARP messages.

To get more technical, IP spoofing takes the data and changes some identifiable information at a network level. This makes spoofing almost undetectable.

For example, take a DoS attack.

This uses a collection of bots using spoofed IP addresses to send data to a particular site and server, taking it offline. Here, spoofing the IP makes the attack difficult to detect until it’s too late, and it’s similarly hard to trace after the fact.

Machine-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks also utilize IP spoofing because the MITM approach relies on faking trust between two endpoints. We’ll talk more about both of these attacks in greater detail later.

IP spoofing is a common way for malicious users to gain quick credibility, and almost anyone using the internet could be vulnerable.
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How IP Spoofing Happens

Let’s look at how the internet uses data to better understand IP spoofing.

Each computer has an IP address. Any data that you send is broken down into multiple packets (“packets”) Each packet is unique. Once they reach the end, each packet is reassembled and presented together. Each packet contains its unique information (“header”) which includes the IP address of both the source as well as the destination.

This is theoretically supposed to guarantee that data arrives at their destination without any tampering. This is not always true.

IP spoofing is a technique that alters the information to appear genuine. It uses the source IP header. This can cause serious security breaches to even the most secure networks. Web engineers are often trying to find new ways of protecting information that travels across the internet.

IPv6, for example, is a more recent protocol that provides encryption and authentication. Secure shell (SSH), and secure socket layers are useful for end-users. However, we will discuss why these methods can’t eliminate the problem. You can protect your computer by using more encryption methods, at least theoretically.

It is also important to note that IP spoofing does not constitute an illegal activity, which is why it is so common. We’ll be discussing other legitimate uses of IP spoofing in another section. While IP spoofing is a good way to get hackers in the door, it may not be the only method of breaching trust.

Your IP is a target for spoofing

Even if you disregard all moral and ethical concerns, the identity of another user is extremely valuable and worthwhile. There are many bad actors out there who would use another’s identity to get something.

Many malicious users make high-value investments in spoofing IP addresses. Although IP spoofing is not a lucrative activity, the potential rewards could be huge.

IP spoofing is an example of how a user can impersonate another user to obtain personal information (and other) from an unsuspecting individual.

This can have a knock-on effect on other users as well. Hackers don’t have to spoof every target’s IP to break into the defenses. They only need one. These unearned credentials can be used by the hacker to gain trust in others and allow them to share personal data.

The IP is therefore not valuable. However, depending on how the IP is spooft, the payoff could be substantial and there’s a lot of potential to access other systems via IP spoofing.

Three Most Common Types Of Attacks From IP Spoofing

Some types of attacks can be made possible by IP spoofing. Let’s look at three more.

1. Masking Botnets

A botnet is a collection of computers controlled by an attacker from one source. Each computer runs a bot that executes the attacks on behalf of the bad actor. It is evident that IP spoofing is essential for masking botnets.

Hackers can gain control of computers through malware and DDoS attacks. Botnets are used by malicious users to execute DDoS attacks and spam attacks. Ad fraud and ransomware attacks can also be carried out. This is a flexible way to conduct targeted skirmishes on other users.

IP spoofing is a major reason. Every bot in the network has an IP spoofing, which makes it difficult to trace the malicious actor.

Spoofing IPs is a great way to avoid law enforcement. This isn’t all.

Botnets that use spoofed IPs can also be used to stop the target from notifying the owners. This can prolong the attack and allow the hacker to “pivot” the focus onto other targets. This could theoretically lead to an attack that runs on an indefinite basis to maximize the payoff.

2. Direct Denial-of-Service (DDoS), Attacks

DDoS attacks are when a website is brought down by excessive and overwhelming malicious traffic. This can cause severe damage to a site and there are several ways to minimize the impact.

This article includes several related spoofing techniques and attacks that can be combined to create the whole assault.

DNS Spoofing

To infiltrate a network, a malicious user first uses DNS spoofing. Spoofing is used by malicious actors to change the DNS domain name to another IP address.

You could do many other attacks from here but malware infection is the most popular. It basically diverts traffic away from legitimate sources and redirects it to malicious ones, making it easy to infect another machine. Once the infection is complete, additional machines will be infected and the botnet will be created to efficiently carry out the DDoS attack.

Spoofing IP addresses

An attacker may also use DNS spoofing to obfuscate individual bots within a network. This is often done in the context of perpetual randomization. It is almost impossible to trace and detect an IP address that has not changed for too many years.

This network-level attack is difficult for an end-user (and stumps many server side experts too). This is a great way to execute malicious attacks without any consequences.

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RP Poisoning

Another way to carry out DDoS attacks is through ARP spoofing, also known as “poisoning”. This is a more complicated method than brute force to mask botnets or IP spoofing but it incorporates both of them to execute an attack.

It is possible to attack a local area network (LAN), and then send malicious ARP data packets in order to alter the IP addresses within a MAC list. This is a simple way for attackers to gain access on many computers simultaneously.

ARP poisoning aims to send all network traffic through infected computers and then manipulate it. This is easy to do via the attacker’s computer and allows them to choose between a DDoS attack or a MITM attack.

3. MITM Attacks

Machine-in-the-Middle (MITM) attacks are particularly complex, highly effective, and utterly catastrophic for a network.

These attacks allow you to intercept data from your computer and send it to the server. The attacker can interact with you by creating fake websites to steal information. Sometimes, an attacker intercepts data transmissions between legitimate sources. This increases the attack’s effectiveness.

MITM attacks rely on IP Spoofing because there must be a breach in trust without the user knowing. A MITM attack is more valuable than other attacks because hackers can keep collecting data for a long time and then sell it to others.

MITM attacks are real-world examples of IP spoofing. You can track every aspect of any communication by spoofing an IP address. You can then cherry-pick information and route users to fake sites.

A MITM attack can be a highly profitable and dangerous way to get user information. IP spoofing, however, is an integral part of it.

Why IP Spoofing is Dangerous for Your Website and Users

Because IP spoofing happens at a low level network level, it poses a threat to nearly all internet users.

Spoofing and Phishing go hand in hand. A good spoofing attack will not present as a phishing effort. Users will not be suspicious and may hand over sensitive information.

Security systems and firewalls will be prime targets for business-critical elements. Site security is therefore a top concern. You need to make sure that your network has enough functionality to prevent an attack. However, you must also ensure that all users are aware of security issues and follow good security practices.

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However, one aspect of IP spoofing makes curbing it less straightforward: The technique has many legitimate use cases across the web.

Legitimate Uses For IP Spoofing

Because IP spoofing has lots of non-malicious use cases, there’s little you can do to stop others from using it.

For example, thousands of “ethical hackers” look to test systems for companies. This type of ethical hacking is a sanctioned system breach, designed to test security resources and strength.

This will follow the same process as malicious hacking. The user will carry out reconnaissance work on the target, gain and maintain access to the system, and obfuscate their penetration.

You’ll often find that unethical hackers convert to ethical types and find employment with companies they may have considered a target in the past. You can even find official exams and certifications to help you gain the proper credentials.

Some companies will also use IP spoofing in simulation exercises unrelated to system breaches. For example, mass mail-outs are a good use case for thousands of IP addresses, and they will all need to be created through (legitimate) spoofing.

User registration tests use IP spoofing to simulate the results too. Any situation where you need to simulate many users is an ideal case for ethical IP spoofing.

Why You Can’t Prevent IP Spoofing

Because spoofing is so tricky to spot, and because the nature of the method is to hide a true identity, there’s little you can do to prevent it from happening. However, you can minimize the risk and negate the impact.

It’s important to note that an end-user (i.e. the client-side machine) can’t stop spoofing in any way. It’s the job of the server-side team to prevent IP spoofing as best they can.

There are a few ways to add roadblocks between a hacker and a potential target. Some mentioned so far include:

Using a more secure protocol, such as IPv6Ensuring the user base implements good individual security when using the site and networkImplementing SSL and SSH on your site

However, there’s more you can do. For example, you can use a dedicated web application firewall (WAF) such as Sucuri, which will help to “build high walls” around your site.

The Sucuri logo over the words "Real People, Real Security" in green.
The Sucuri logo.

You can also implement public critical infrastructure (PKI) to help authenticate users and associated data. This relies on a private and public key combination to encrypt and decrypt data. Because of the nature of encryption, it’s much more challenging for hackers to breach.

Network monitoring is a basic technique that can also help you spot the signs of IP spoofing or related attacks. This can take many forms, but the better you know your system, the greater the chance to spot malicious attacks.

Packet filtering can help to combat IP spoofing attempts too. “Ingress” and “egress” filtering looks at the source headers for incoming and outgoing communications. If something doesn’t pass that filter, it won’t then affect users within the network.

Finally, deep packet inspection (DPI) is a similar technique that’s as effective. This, along with the other methods here, can even be combined to help shore up a network or server.

Learn more about IP spoofing and what roadblocks you can put up to help reduce the chances of being targeted right here
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Summary

Your IP address is unique for you and every computer currently in use. This address is used to accomplish many tasks such as encryption, authentication, and other. This makes any IP address an easy target for hackers and criminals.

IP spoofing is a technique that feigns an address’ legitimacy and then uses it to gain access to secure networks.

It is beyond the control of the end user to fix IP spoofing. This can make it difficult for sysadmins as well. You can reduce the impact IP Spoofing has on your network, but not eliminate it completely.

However, you have many options to block malicious users from accessing your network. You can use encryption techniques to protect your data, and you can also monitor your network with a firewall or network monitoring strategy.

Is IP spoofing a problem for you? If so, what are your thoughts on the matter? Please comment below to share your thoughts!

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