How Hackers Can Spoof IP Address & How to Protect Yourself
If you want to find out more about that, check out this 4-minute read.
So, What Is IP Spoofing?
IP spoofing is when a cybercriminal hides the original IP address of a data packet. By doing that, they make it seem like the packet comes from a different source – usually, a “legitimate” one.
That’s not all. A hacker could also mask the IP address of the receiver – the device you communicate with (like a web server).
Is It Illegal?
We’re going to talk about this in general since we have no way of knowing if a specific country has laws against it or not.
So, regular IP spoofing itself isn’t illegal. By that, we’re referring to stuff like using a VPN or proxy to hide your IP address, or using fake visitors to stress-test a server.
What is illegal is someone spoofing IP addresses in order to do something illegal – like committing identity theft.
How to Spoof IP Address – What Hackers Do
To understand that, here’s a little something you need to know about how data travels the web:
Normally, all your Internet traffic is split into multiple data packets. Each packet has an IP header that contains details like the IP address of the receiver (a web server or device) or the address of the traffic’s source (your device, for example).
All the packets get reassembled once they reach their destination. To do that, data packets use the TCP/IP protocol. Well, the whole process actually needs a three-way TCP handshake for the data transfer to finish up successfully:
- To establish a connection between devices and servers, the source has to send a SYN message to the receiver.
- To acknowledge the connection, the receiver sends back an ACK message to the source.
- Lastly, to confirm the connection and make sure it’s secure, the source will send a SYN-ACK message to the receiver.
Now, when hackers spoof IP address, they act right before the last step of the TCP handshake. They intercept it, and send a fake confirmation that has a spoofed IP address and their device address.
That way, cybercriminals trick the receiver into thinking they’re communicating with a legitimate source.
That’s just a basic example of IP spoofing. Depending on how complex the hacker wants it to be, it can vary.
How Can IP Spoofing Affect You?
Cybercriminals can get pretty “creative” when they spoof IP address data. They can target you, web applications, and web servers with ease.
Here are the most common risks they can expose you to:
DoS and DDoS Attacks
A DoS/DDoS attack is when someone intentionally floods your network with tons of requests and unwanted traffic. They do that to force you offline – either for a few minutes, or for days on end.
A hacker could send out thousands or millions of requests to web servers, and use IP spoofing to trick said servers into sending the requested files, data, or content back to you. If there are enough requests, it won’t take long for your network to crack under all that stress.
In a MITM (Man-in-the-Middle) attack, a hacker positions themselves between you and the web server or device you’re communicating with. They do that to monitor the data you share, so that they can steal sensitive info like login credentials and credit card info.Normally, you open yourself to these kinds of attacks whenever you use unsecured WiFi, or when you browse HTTP websites. A cybercriminal could easily use IP spoofing to pretend they’re you, or pretend they’re the web server/device you’re communicating with.
Unauthorized Access to Your Network
You can use firewalls to blacklist malicious IP addresses. However, if a hacker spoofs their address, they can easily get around those restrictions.
Alternatively, your firewall might have a list of approved IP addresses. Well, a cybercriminal could use IP spoofing to get a whitelisted IP address, and get easy access to your network.
How to Prevent IP Spoofing
If you look this up online, you’ll get tons of tips. Unfortunately, they’re not really actionable for the average online user.
Here’s what we mean – apparently, this is what you should do to prevent IP spoofing:
- Use DPI (Deep Packet Inspection);
- Migrate any websites you have from IPv4 to IPv6;
- Keep an eye out for suspicious activity on your network;
- Use a firewall to protect computing resources;
- Authenticate all IP addresses;
- Use network attack blockers.
All in all, those are the kinds of things IT specialists handle to protect company data from hackers.
So what can you, a regular Internet user, do?
Well, you can try out those complicated tips if you think you’re up to it. But you can also do some easier stuff:
- Use a VPN service. It hides your real IP address, and also encrypts all your traffic. Overall, it makes it near impossible for a cybercriminal to spoof IP address info.
- Don’t browse HTTP websites, only HTTPS ones. To be on the safe side, install HTTPS Everywhere on your browsers.
- Use antivirus/antimalware software to keep your network safe from malicious data packets. ESET and Malwarebytes are good options.
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The Bottom Line
While IP spoofing can mean you’re hiding your IP address with a proxy or VPN, the term usually refers to hackers manipulating data packets to deceive senders and/or receivers.
The risks are pretty serious – network infiltrations, DoS/DDoS attacks, and MITM attacks.Preventing IP spoofing is usually the domain of IT specialists, but you can still make things better by using antivirus/antimalware programs, VPNs, and only browsing HTTPS websites.