ICMP format. ICMP Attacks Phase I – Reconnaissance

ICMP Attacks


The simplicity of
the ICMP protocol and the lack of awareness of
security issues related to protocol has led to some of the possible attacks
using ICMP.

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ICMP Basics


the Internet Control Message Protocol is an integral part of any IP implementation.          06E4


Although ICMP messages are sent in IP packets and it
uses IP as if it were a higher-level protocol, ICMP is in fact an internal part
of IP, and must be implemented in every IP module. ICMP messages are classified
into 2 main categories:


·       ICMP Error Messages

·       ICMP Query Messages


Its goals and features as outlined in RFC 792 is to provide a means to send  error messages for non-transient error
conditions, and to provide a way to probe the network in order to determine general characteristics about the


number code, also known as the “message type”, is assigned to each ICMP
message; it specifies the type of the message. Another number code represents a
“code” for the specified ICMP type; it acts as a sub-type, and its
interpretation is dependent upon the message type. The diagram below shows the
general ICMP packet format.


ICMP Attacks


Phase I – Reconnaissance & Scanning

1.    ICMP Sweep

In any typical attack
scenario, the attacker will first engage in some reconnaissance and scanning
activities in order to


Better understand
the environment of the target

information about the target so as to plan the attack approach

Employ the right techniques & tools for the subsequent0a6tEta4ck phases


One of the most common and well understood technique for discovering the range of hosts which are alive in
the target’s environment is to perform a ICMP sweep of the entire target’s network range.


sweep involves essentially sending a series of ICMP request packets to the target
network range and from the list of ICMP replies
infer whether certain hosts are alive and
connected to the target’s network for
further probing.


Although the above attack
can be done manually via a very
simple command ping, many automated scanning tools (E.g.
nmap (http://www.insecure.org/nmap) and Superscan (http://www.foundstone.com/rdlabs/proddesc/superscan.html)) will speed up the entire
scanning process by performing such a scan
on all possible IP address range
given a  target network.





2.  Traceroute


Another very useful tool
for mapping out the target’s
network configuration is the use of a
very simple command call traceroute.


What this command essentially does is, it will send
out progressively a series of packets with an increasing
TTL (Time to Live) value set.


When an intermediate
router receives a forwarding packet,
it’ll decrement the TTL value of the
packet before forwarding it to the next
router. At this time if the TTL value of the packet reaches zero, an ICMP
“time exceeded” message will be send
back to the originating host.


By sending the
packet with initial TTL value of 1 will
allow the first router in the
path of the packet to now send back an
ICMP “time exceeded” message which
will then allow the attacker to know the IP address of the first router.


Subsequent packets are send by increasing the TTL value
in the packet by 1 each time, thus the attacker
will be able to know every hop between him and
the target.


Using this technique, the attacker could not only
trace the path taken by a data packet as it travels to the target but also
gives him information on the topology (hop count) of the target network.


This information is crucial in allowing the attacker
plan his approach when attacking the network.


A network-mapping tool like Cheops (http://www.marko.net/cheops) would allow the attacker to quickly map
out the entire target -network using ping
and traceroute.


This tool is a very noisy
tool from a traffic perspective and can be easily picked up by  any  intrusion detection system as well as firewall logs.

Traceroute Attack




Developing further from the traceroute idea, this next technique (Firewalk) can be used to identify ports that are open on a packet filtering firewall.


Port Number:


In computer
networking, a port is an endpoint of communication in
an operating system. While the term
is also used for physical devices, in software it is a logical construct that
identifies a specific process or a type
of network service.


A port is always associated
with an IP address of a host
and the protocol type of the
communication. It completes the destination or origination network address of a message. 


Ports are identified for each protocol
and address combination by 16-bit unsigned numbers, commonly known as
the port number.


Specific port numbers are
commonly reserved to identify specific services. The
lowest numbered 1024 port numbers are called the well-known port numbers, and identify
the historically most commonly used services.


In the client–server
model of application architecture, the ports that network clients
connect to for service initiation provide a multiplexing service, so that multiple
simultaneous communication sessions may be initiated from these ports.


After an initial service request
connects to the well-known port number, the port is freed
by switching the servicing of the request to a dedicated,
connection-specific port number. The protocols that primarily
use ports are the transport layer protocols,
such as the Transmission
Control Protocol (TCP) and the User Datagram
Protocol (UDP).



The purpose of doing
so is  really to map out the filtering
rules that are being set up in a packet filtering firewall.


Firewalking is typically done as,


·      Involves doing a traceroute from the attacker to the
target firewall to ascertain the number of hops it will take for a packet to
reach the firewall.


·      During the scanning phase, TTL value of packets will
be set to one greater than the firewall and send to a known host behind the


·      If an ICMP “time exceeded” message is received, that
would mean that the packet has managed to get past the firewall and thus
causing an ICMP packet to be returned by the known host because TTL value has
now reached zero, otherwise it can be deduced that there is a filtering rule on
the firewall which stops the traffic.


·      Firewalk can be found at (http://www.packetstormsecurity.com/UNIX/audit/firewalk/).


















Inverse Mapping is a technique used to map internal networks
or hosts that are protected by a filtering device.


Inverse Mapping attack is illustrated below:


Step  1.
 Attacker  sends
 an  ICMP reply  message  to
 o0f6EIP4 addresses  presumably
behind a filtering device.


Step 2. Upon receiving
the series of ICMP reply messages, since the filtering device does not keep
state of the list of ICMP requests, it will allow these packets to their


Step 3. If there is an internal router, the
router will respond with a ICMP “Host Unreachable”
for every host that it cannot
reach, thus giving the attacker knowledge
of all hosts which are present behind the filtering device.


OS Fingerprinting


Before any attack can be launched, other than knowing the existence of the target host, it would be extremely beneficial to know the
underlying operating system as well as the list of
services that it runs.


While port scanners can determine the types of services that
are being offered on the system, ICMP could again be engaged in helping the attacker determine the underlying operating system.


The advantage of using ICMP protocol in a remote OS
fingerprinting exercise offers the attacker a more stealthy way in OS
identification process.


In some instances only a single packet is sent to
determine the operating system used by the target system.


Remote OS Fingerprinting is a technique that exploits
the fact that different operating system vendors have built a slightly
different way of handling network traffic.


A detailed study of both active and passive remote OS
fingerprinting was done and a detailed report can be found at (http://www.sys-security.com/html/projects/X.html).


A remote OS Fingerprinting attack is illustrated






Step 1. Attacker sends an UDP packet to a target host
whose UDP port is closed.


Step 2. An ICMP “Destination unreachable port”
message will be returned to the attacker.


Step 3. Due to the fact that different hosts will send a slightly
different  ICMP packet back,
operating systems can be determined
by examining several bits in the return packet.


In this instance, to differentiate
between the Linux kernel and that of the networking device, ICMP Error Quoting
size fingerprinting method can be employed.


In this method, the returned ICMP
packet is inspected for the number of bytes that are being returned. Linux
kernel will return a different number of bytes as compared to networking
device, thus we are able to differentiate them.         06E4


One step further is to be able to differentiate between the various versions
of the Linux kernel. In this case we
will be looking at the IP TTL value set in the packet, Linux kernel
2.0.x has got an initial value of 64 whereas 2.2.x and 2.4.x will use an initial value of


Now to differentiate between the
2.2.x and 2.4.x is to look at the IP ID value of the packet, 2.4.1 – 2.4.4 has
got a value equals to zero unlike 2.2.x. Thus just by looking at 1 return
packet from the target, the attacker is able to drill down to the type and
version of the underlying operating system.


Other techniques like checking how a
host responds to a crafted ICMP timestamp request are also employed to
differentiate between operating systems.


The term OS fingerprinting in Ethical Hacking refers to
any method used to determine what operating system is running on a remote
computer. By analyzing certain protocol flags, options, and data in the
packets a device sends onto the network, we can make relatively accurate
guesses about the OS that sent those packets.


By pinpointing the exact OS of a host, an attacker can
launch a precise attack against a target machine. In a world of buffer
overflows, knowing the exact flavor and architecture of an OS could be all the
opportunity an attacker needs

 OS fingerprinting Techniques

Active fingerprinting

Active fingerprinting is accomplished
by sending specially crafted packets to a target machine and then noting down
its response and analyzing the gathered information to determine the target OS.
In the following section, we have given an example to explain how you can use
NMAP tool to detect the OS of a target domain.

Passive fingerprinting

Passive fingerprinting is based on sniffer traces
from the remote system. Based on the sniffer traces (such as Wireshark) of the
packets, you can determine the operating system of the remote host.

We have the following four important elements that
we will look at to determine the operating system 

What the operating system sets the 

Time-To-Live on
the outbound packet.

Window Size ?
What the operating system sets the Window Size at.

DF ? Does
the operating system set the

Don’t Fragment bit.

Does the operating system set the 

Type of Service, and
if so, at what.

Tools Used For OS fingerprinting 

p0f – passive OS fingerprinting 

P0f is a tool that utilizes an array of
sophisticated, purely passive traffic fingerprinting mechanisms to
identify the players behind any incidental TCP/IP communications (often as
little as a single normal SYN) without interfering in any way. Version 3 is a
complete rewrite of the original codebase, incorporating a significant number
of improvements to network-level fingerprinting, and introducing the
ability to reason about application-level payloads (e.g., HTTP). 

Website: http://lcamtuf.coredump.cx/p0f3/

Ettercap – passive OS fingerprinting

Ettercap is a comprehensive suite for man in the
middle attacks. It features sniffing of live connections, content filtering on
the fly and many other interesting tricks. It supports active and passive
dissection of many protocols and includes many features for network and host

Website: http://ettercap.github.io/ettercap/

Nmap – active OS fingerprinting

Nmap is a free and open source utility for network
discovery and security auditing. Many systems and network administrators also
find it useful for tasks such as network inventory, managing service upgrade
schedules, and monitoring host or service uptime. Nmap uses raw IP packets in
novel ways to determine what hosts are available on the network, what services
those hosts are offering, what operating systems they are running, what type of
packet filters/firewalls are in use, and dozens of other characteristics. It
was designed to rapidly scan large networks, but works fine against single

If you do not have Nmap command installed on your Linux system, then you can install it using
the following yum command – $yum install nmap

Website: http://nmap.org/

XProbe2 – active OS fingerprinting

Xprobe2 is an active operating system fingerprinting tool
with a different approach to operating system fingerprinting. Xprobe2 relies on
fuzzy signature matching, probabilistic guesses and multiple simultaneous
matches, and a signature database.

Website : http://sourceforge.net/projects/xprobe/files/xprobe2/


By analyzing these factors of a packet, you may be
able to determine the remote operating system. This system is not 100% accurate
and works better for some operating systems than others.


attacking a system, it is required that you know what operating system is
hosting a website. Once a target OS is known, then it becomes easy to determine
which vulnerabilities might be present to exploit the target system.


Phase 2 – Exploiting Systems ICMP Route Redirect


An ICMP Route Redirect message is sent
when a gateway receives an IP traffic from a host and finds in its routing
table that its next gateway to be routed to for this traffic is on the same
network as the host.

A first look at this does not really
reveal any problems with this, but let’s go through a scenario to see how this
could be exploited to allow a Man-In-The-Middle attack to be launched.


rights full06E4


Step 1.Attacker
manages to take over a secondary gateway
G1 of the source host.

Step 2.Attacker sends a TCP open
packet to source host acting as destination host.

Step 3. While a reply is in transit
from the source host to the destination host through gateway G2, the attacker
sends an ICMP route redirect message to source host spoofing as G2.

Step 4. Source host will accept the route change control message as valid and thus changes its routing table to now route all
traffic bound for destination host through Gateway G1.

Step 5. Now attacker will quietly
read/modify and forward all traffic bound
for destination host to Gateway G2
acting as a Man-In-The-Middle host.

ICMP informational messages


By sending “oversized” ICMP messages to a target host
could potentially crash / reboot the target host. This is due to the fact that
some OS does not know how to handle packets that are larger than the maximum
size as stipulated in RFC.


The TCP/IP specification
allows for a maximum of 65536
octets in a single packet of information. This exploit can easily be
exploited through the use of the ping
command (with a flag to indicate
the size of the packet to be send) by using a packet size greater than 65536 octets. Some OS will
perform checks on the size of the
outgoing ping packets and will not allow
packets greater than 65536 octets. There are many tools that are available for
download that will allow the attacker to create customized  ping  packets.
One such example is hping2 (http://www.securityfocus.com/tools/641).

If the target host is not properly patched, the OS
will freeze or reboot after receiving just 1
oversized packet.

By exploiting the nature of fragmentation as well as
oversized ICMP packets, another exploit is possible that will cause some OS to
stop responding and have to resort to a reboot to recover from these attacks.



SSPing (http://packetstormsecurity.org/Exploit_Code_Archive/ssping.zip) is a tool that does just


Developing further from this idea is another tool
Jolt2 (http://razor.bindview.com/publish/advisories/adv_Jolt2.html)


In this attack, sending large numbers of identical
fragmented IP packets to the target host will cause the host to stop responding
for the period of time when the attack is in progress.


Another tool teardrop (http://packetstormsecurity.org/Exploit_Code_Archive/teardrop.c) sends a stream of fragmented
packets to the target host and asks it
to put them back together. When the host tries to do
so, it discovers that the packets are not the
size they say they are. This causes the target host to hang and require a re-boot before it will function


ICMP Router Discovery Messages


Before a host is able to send a message to a host
outside its own subnet, it must be able to identify the address of the
immediate router. This is typically done through reading a configuration file
upon startup and on some multicast network by listening to routing protocol


An extension to the ICMP protocol called “ICMP Router
Discovery Protocol” (defined in RFC 1256 – http://www.faqs.org/rfcs/rfc1256.html) is able to use “router advertisement”
as well as “router solicitation” messages to allow hosts to find out the IP
addresses of the router that is attached to their immediate network.


When a host is being
started up, it will make use of the “router solicitation” messages to check for the address of the immediate
router. Since these messages
are  not
authenticated, attackers on the
same subnet as the host can spoof
these messages.


possible attack scenario is illustrated below:


Step 1. Host boots up and
issues a “router solicitation” message to find out the default router on the


2. Attacker listens in to the message and spoofs a reply to that host.


3. The default route of the host is now set to the attacker’s IP address that
the attacker has included in his reply.


4. Now the attacker could employ either sniffing, man-in-the-middle attack for
all traffic outbound through the attacker’s machine.


5. Denial of service attack is also possible by not forwarding any packets onto
the correct subnet.


ICMP Floods


By flooding the
target host with great amounts of ICMP messages will leave the
attacked host and its associated network
with degraded performance or06evEe4n total denial
of service
in some instance.


Smurf (http://cs.baylor.edu/~donahoo/NIUNet/hacking/smurf/smurf.c) attacks are clever: They use
whole networks of computers to direct an overwhelming amount of traffic to a victim’s
machine and its network.

A smurf attack is
illustrated below:


Step 1. Attacker finds some intermediary network that will
respond to the network’s broadcast address.


Step 2. Attacker spoofs the
IP address of the victim host and sends a great number of ICMP echo request
packets to the broadcast address of the above intermediary networks.


Step 3. Now all the hosts
on that network will respond to that ICMP echo request with a corresponding
ICMP reply request back to the spoofed IP address (the victim).


Step 4. This will send a
whole bunch of ICMP echo replies to the victim and its network thus causing
network degradation or a total denial of service.


Phase 3 – Keeping Access
& Covering The Tracks


After an attacker has successfully compromised a
system, one of the ways to hide information as it is being transmitted across a
network is to use a technique called tunneling. Tunneling involves hiding one
protocol inside another protocol. Loki2 is one such implementation discussed in
(http://www.phrack.org/show.php?p=51) which uses ICMP and UDP protocol tunneling to obtain
a reverse shell from an attacked system.


The steps to using Loki2 is illustrated below:


Step 1. Attacker gets root on a victim system.


Step 2. Attacker gets Loki2 and compiles it on the


Step 3. Attacker now
launches Loki2 client on the attacking machine and gets a reverse shell on the
victim host.


Step 4. Now attacker has
shell access to victim’s machine while tunneling traffic through normal ICMP
data packets.


In such an attack, the traffic that is being exchanged between the Loki client & Loki server is almost covert as there are no listening ports opened on the victim machine and even the traffic could be encrypted with an encryption algorithm like Blowfish
or DH for additional covertness.


Loki2 when implemented as a kernel module would be even stealthier as it
would not 
even have a process that will sit and wait for the ICMP traffic that can potentially be detected by an alert administrator.


Taking stock of the recent
Distributed Denial Of Service (DDOS) attacks, we have seen that ICMP have been
used in almost all of those tools for covert communications between the DDOS
client and the attacker’s handler program. Few examples are TFN2K and




We have seen throughout this paper that ICMP can and has been used in many
phases of an attacker’s advance in a system compromise. In many instances,
tools are easily available
on the Internet for download.


We’ve also seen that ICMP is not just being used in
the reconnaissance & scanning phase which is most understood but it has
also been used for exploiting systems as well as in certain instances as a
covert channel for attacker’s communication.