In computer networking, the term IP address spoofing refers to the creation of IP packets with a forged (spoofed) source IP address with the purpose of concealing the identity of the sender or impersonating another computing system. IP stands for Internet Protocol.
How it works
The basic protocol for sending data over the Internet and many other computer networks is the (IP) Internet Protocol. 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 response or the attacker has some way of guessing the response.
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 his 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 unrouteable addresses or unused portions of the IP address space. The proliferation of large botnets makes it 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.
It 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 a user 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 authenticating.
How to protect
Packet filtering is one defense against IP spoofing attacks. The gateway to a network usually performs ingress filtering, which is blocking of packets from outside the network with a source address inside the network. This prevents an outside attacker spoofing the address of an internal machine. Ideally the gateway would also perform egress filtering on outgoing packets, which is blocking of packets from inside the network with a source address that is not inside. This prevents an attacker within the network performing filtering from launching IP spoofing attacks against external machines.