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Common Types of Network Attacks

Without security measures and controls in place, your data might be subjected to an attack. Some attacks are passive, meaning information is monitored; others are active, meaning the information is altered with intent to corrupt or destroy the data or the network itself.

Your networks and data are vulnerable to any of the following types of attacks if you do not have a security plan in place.

Eavesdropping

In general, the majority of network communications occur in an unsecured or "cleartext" format, which allows an attacker who has gained access to data paths in your network to "listen in" or interpret (read) the traffic. When an attacker is eavesdropping on your communications, it is referred to as sniffing or snooping. The ability of an eavesdropper to monitor the network is generally the biggest security problem that administrators face in an enterprise. Without strong encryption services that are based on cryptography, your data can be read by others as it traverses the network.

Data Modification

After an attacker has read your data, the next logical step is to alter it. An attacker can modify the data in the packet without the knowledge of the sender or receiver. Even if you do not require confidentiality for all communications, you do not want any of your messages to be modified in transit. For example, if you are exchanging purchase requisitions, you do not want the items, amounts, or billing information to be modified.

Identity Spoofing (IP Address Spoofing)

Most networks and operating systems use the IP address of a computer to identify a valid entity. In certain cases, it is possible for an IP address to be falsely assumed— identity spoofing. An attacker might also use special programs to construct IP packets that appear to originate from valid addresses inside the corporate intranet.

After gaining access to the network with a valid IP address, the attacker can modify, reroute, or delete your data. The attacker can also conduct other types of attacks, as described in the following sections.

Password-Based Attacks

A common denominator of most operating system and network security plans is password-based access control. This means your access rights to a computer and network resources are determined by who you are, that is, your user name and your password.

Older applications do not always protect identity information as it is passed through the network for validation. This might allow an eavesdropper to gain access to the network by posing as a valid user.

When an attacker finds a valid user account, the attacker has the same rights as the real user. Therefore, if the user has administrator-level rights, the attacker also can create accounts for subsequent access at a later time.

After gaining access to your network with a valid account, an attacker can do any of the following:

  • Obtain lists of valid user and computer names and network information.

  • Modify server and network configurations, including access controls and routing tables.

  • Modify, reroute, or delete your data.

Denial-of-Service Attack

Unlike a password-based attack, the denial-of-service attack prevents normal use of your computer or network by valid users.

After gaining access to your network, the attacker can do any of the following:

  • Randomize the attention of your internal Information Systems staff so that they do not see the intrusion immediately, which allows the attacker to make more attacks during the diversion.

  • Send invalid data to applications or network services, which causes abnormal termination or behavior of the applications or services.

  • Flood a computer or the entire network with traffic until a shutdown occurs because of the overload.

  • Block traffic, which results in a loss of access to network resources by authorized users.

Man-in-the-Middle Attack

As the name indicates, a man-in-the-middle attack occurs when someone between you and the person with whom you are communicating is actively monitoring, capturing, and controlling your communication transparently. For example, the attacker can re-route a data exchange. When computers are communicating at low levels of the network layer, the computers might not be able to determine with whom they are exchanging data.

Man-in-the-middle attacks are like someone assuming your identity in order to read your message. The person on the other end might believe it is you because the attacker might be actively replying as you to keep the exchange going and gain more information. This attack is capable of the same damage as an application-layer attack, described later in this section.

Compromised-Key Attack

A key is a secret code or number necessary to interpret secured information. Although obtaining a key is a difficult and resource-intensive process for an attacker, it is possible. After an attacker obtains a key, that key is referred to as a compromised key.

An attacker uses the compromised key to gain access to a secured communication without the sender or receiver being aware of the attack.With the compromised key, the attacker can decrypt or modify data, and try to use the compromised key to compute additional keys, which might allow the attacker access to other secured communications.

Sniffer Attack

A sniffer is an application or device that can read, monitor, and capture network data exchanges and read network packets. If the packets are not encrypted, a sniffer provides a full view of the data inside the packet. Even encapsulated (tunneled) packets can be broken open and read unless they are encrypted and the attacker does not have access to the key.

Using a sniffer, an attacker can do any of the following:

  • Analyze your network and gain information to eventually cause your network to crash or to become corrupted.

  • Read your communications.

Application-Layer Attack

An application-layer attack targets application servers by deliberately causing a fault in a server's operating system or applications. This results in the attacker gaining the ability to bypass normal access controls. The attacker takes advantage of this situation, gaining control of your application, system, or network, and can do any of the following:

  • Read, add, delete, or modify your data or operating system.

  • Introduce a virus program that uses your computers and software applications to copy viruses throughout your network.

  • Introduce a sniffer program to analyze your network and gain information that can eventually be used to crash or to corrupt your systems and network.

  • Abnormally terminate your data applications or operating systems.

  • Disable other security controls to enable future attacks.

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