What Is IP Spoofing? Recognizing and Preventing Attacks

As computer safety protocols increase, cybercriminals must get increasingly clever. Spoofing is one way for individuals to attempt to bypass computer safety settings and reach potential victims. Though not all spoofing is detrimental, generally, as in the case of IP spoofing, the recipient is at serious risk.

What is IP spoofing?

IP spoofing - otherwise known as IP address spoofing - is a way for cybercriminals to disguise their IP address in order to attack a recipient from an anonymous and untraceable place. The criminal’s address appears as a trusted source or as a hidden address altogether.

IP spoofing brings serious harm to the recipient on their computer, network, or devices; because the IP address is disguised, criminals can steal sensitive data or private information from a computer, damage servers, infect a computer with malware, and more. The logistics can be difficult to understand. But having knowledge on the subject can be the difference between having your computer and server hacked and catching on to an incident early.

How IP spoofing works

IP spoofing revolves around IP packets. IP (Internet Protocol) packets are essentially pockets of data, which is the packet’s content, and a packet header, which includes the IP addresses of the packet’s source and destination much like an email header. Networked computers send and receive IP packets. This serves as a primary way of communication between devices.

In the case of IP spoofing, the sender forges the source IP address on the IP packet. The recipient gets the IP packet with a false source address and cannot track it or respond. This makes it difficult to catch the sender or stop the sending of IP packets.

The spoofed address can also appear to belong to a trusted source or friend, tricking the recipient into believing the sent material to be safe. Because spoofed IP addresses can look to be trustworthy, computers don’t always send out alerts and the falsified addresses are able to evade normal security checks.

The entire process can be equated to receiving a package in the mail with the wrong return address. However, the wrong return address in this case would be intentional. The sender intentionally spoofs their address so that attempting to stop the mail flow will be incredibly difficult. The sender can simply change the return address again and again.

How it can affect you

IP spoofing poses a serious risk for users. The spoofing methods are used to bypass IP address authentication protocols, because the IP address looks legit. This means once a hacker gets inside a network, it's considered trustworthy - and can do real damage to a device or network.

Recipients may not be aware of damages that have occurred until it's too late. Spoofing can lead to stolen personal data and sensitive information, which could even potentially result in identity theft or other forms of serious fraud.

Furthermore, computers receive malware and viruses from spoofed addresses. These viruses can shut down a user's device and compromise that device's safety. IP spoofing attackers can intercept communications on a device, gain insight into a victim's personal life, and use that information against them. At their worst, spoofed IP addresses can even damage servers and Internet websites.

The dangers of IP spoofing are real. Therefore, it's critical that computer users protect themselves against spoofing as well as they possibly can.

IP spoofing on a tablet

Protecting against attacks

Fortunately, there are ways to protect against the dangers of IP spoofing. Follow these steps below to ensure that you use the Internet safely and avoid becoming a victim of IP spoofing.

  • Always browse the web in the safest way possible. Don’t use unsecured WiFi connections or public connections that seem suspicious. Check that all websites you visit have the padlock symbol and “https” rather than “http” in the website’s URL bar, as this indicates a secure connection.
  • Secure your own WiFi network at home. The best way to secure your WiFi network is with a strong password. Don't leave your WiFi network on the default password; instead, change the password or set up a separate guest SSID so you don't have to disclose the password.
  • Set up a firewall and anti-malware security software on your computer or device. The antivirus software scans and filters all incoming traffic on your device. This way, it increases the chances of a successful authentication process for IP addresses.
  • Keep an eye on your network and computer for any suspicious activity. Do your best to discern whether or not the emails and messages you receive from outside sources are legitimate. Messages that appear to come from friends and family can be more difficult. But spam emails, phishing emails, spoofed emails, or messages from unauthenticated sources shouldn’t be opened.
  • Consider installing a packet filtering system. A packet filtering system can help check IP packets and ensure that they are from authenticated, trusted sources.

You can't always prevent IP spoofing, but users can reduce their risk by improving their online safety and properly securing their devices.

IP spoofing and DDoS attacks

Distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks are a type of attack on users' computers specifically designed to shut down a network. Like other forms of cyberattacks, the idea is to make important files inaccessible to users. DDoS attacks do this by flooding a target network with traffic. IP spoofing, however, is a big part of these attacks in many cases.

DDoS attacks use IP spoofing to do two things: mask botnet device locations and to enact reflected attacks. Botnets, or clusters of devices remotely controlled by a singled device, allow them to flood a server with traffic. Spoofing lets cybercriminals hide or disguise a botnet's identity, which in turn allows them to bypass computer security, avoid capture, and continue to attack remotely.

DDoS attacks also use IP spoofing in reflected attacks, in which the victim appears to be making requests to get responses from intermediary servers. This, in turn, triggers large responses and increased traffic output on the behalf of the victim rather than the cybercriminal or botnet.

Frequently asked questions

What are different types of IP spoofing?

There are four different types of IP spoofing: blind spoofing, non-blind spoofing, denial-of-service attacks, and man-in-the-middle attacks.

Is IP spoofing illegal?

IP spoofing is not illegal if used for non-malicious purposes. Many companies and websites use this tactic to test their websites and servers. However, in most cases, the spoofing is a method to try and commit cybercrime or impersonate another person via their IP. This is not legal.

Can IP spoofing be traced?

While you can 'trace' a spoofed address back to its spoofed location, it's difficult to trace the address back to its original source. To trace a spoofed IP, a user would need to track the IP packets, which involves contacting the Internet service provider (ISP) who assigned the IP.