Common Security Attacks


MAC Address Flooding
Unfortunately, basic switch security does not stop malicious attacks from occurring. In this topic, you will learn about a few common security attacks and how dangerous they are. This topic provides introductory level information about security attacks. The details of how some of these common attacks work are beyond the scope of the course. If you find network security of interest, you should explore the course CCNA Exploration: Accessing the WAN.
MAC Address Flooding
MAC address flooding is a common attack. Recall that the MAC address table in a switch contains the MAC addresses available on a given physical port of a switch and the associated VLAN parameters for each. When a Layer 2 switch receives a frame, the switch looks in the MAC address table for the destination MAC address. All Catalyst switch models use a MAC address table for Layer 2 switching. As frames arrive on switch ports, the source MAC addresses are learned and recorded in the MAC address table. If an entry exists for the MAC address, the switch forwards the frame to the MAC address port designated in the MAC address table. If the MAC address does not exist, the switch acts like a hub and forwards the frame out every port on the switch. MAC address table overflow attacks are sometimes referred to as MAC flooding attacks. To understand the mechanism of a MAC address table overflow attack, recall the basic operation of a switch.
The key to understanding how MAC address table overflow attacks work is to know that MAC address tables are limited in size. MAC flooding makes use of this limitation to bombard the switch with fake source MAC addresses until the switch MAC address table is full. The switch then enters into what is known as a fail-open mode, starts acting as a hub, and broadcasts packets to all the machines on the network. As a result, the attacker can see all of the frames sent from a victim host to another host without a MAC address table entry.
MAC flooding can be performed using a network attack tool. The network intruder uses the attack tool to flood the switch with a large number of invalid source MAC addresses until the MAC address table fills up. When the MAC address table is full, the switch floods all ports with incoming traffic because it cannot find the port number for a particular MAC address in the MAC address table. The switch, in essence, acts like a hub.
Some network attack tools can generate 155,000 MAC entries on a switch per minute. Depending on the switch, the maximum MAC address table size varies. In the figure, the attack tool is running on the host with MAC address C in the bottom right of the screen. This tool floods a switch with packets containing randomly generated source and destination MAC and IP addresses. Over a short period of time, the MAC address table in the switch fills up until it cannot accept new entries. When the MAC address table fills up with invalid source MAC addresses, the switch begins to forward all frames that it receives to every port.
As long as the network attack tool is left running, the MAC address table on the switch remains full. When this happens, the switch begins to broadcast all received frames out every port so that frames sent from host A to host B are also broadcast out of port 3 on the switch.
Spoofing Attacks
One way an attacker can gain access to network traffic is to spoof responses that would be sent by a valid DHCP server. The DHCP spoofing device replies to client DHCP requests. The legitimate server may also reply, but if the spoofing device is on the same segment as the client, its reply to the client may arrive first. The intruder DHCP reply offers an IP address and supporting information that designates the intruder as the default gateway or Domain Name System (DNS) server. In the case of a gateway, the clients then forward packets to the attacking device, which in turn, sends them to the desired destination. This is referred to as a man-in-the-middle attack, and it may go entirely undetected as the intruder intercepts the data flow through the network.
You should be aware of another type of DHCP attack called a DHCP starvation attack. The attacker PC continually requests IP addresses from a real DHCP server by changing their source MAC addresses. If successful, this kind of DHCP attack causes all of the leases on the real DHCP server to be allocated, thus preventing the real users (DHCP clients) from obtaining an IP address.
To prevent DHCP attacks, use the DHCP snooping and port security features on the Cisco Catalyst switches.
Cisco Catalyst DHCP Snooping and Port Security Features
DHCP snooping is a Cisco Catalyst feature that determines which switch ports can respond to DHCP requests. Ports are identified as trusted and untrusted. Trusted ports can source all DHCP messages; untrusted ports can source requests only. Trusted ports host a DHCP server or can be an uplink toward the DHCP server. If a rogue device on an untrusted port attempts to send a DHCP response packet into the network, the port is shut down. This feature can be coupled with DHCP options in which switch information, such as the port ID of the DHCP request, can be inserted into the DHCP request packet.
Untrusted ports are those not explicitly configured as trusted. A DHCP binding table is built for untrusted ports. Each entry contains a client MAC address, IP address, lease time, binding type, VLAN number, and port ID recorded as clients make DHCP requests. The table is then used to filter subsequent DHCP traffic. From a DHCP snooping perspective, untrusted access ports should not send any DHCP server responses.
These steps illustrate how to configure DHCP snooping on a Cisco IOS switch:
Step 1. Enable DHCP snooping using the ip dhcp snooping global configuration command.
Step 2. Enable DHCP snooping for specific VLANs using the ip dhcp snooping vlan number [number] command.
Step 3. Define ports as trusted or untrusted at the interface level by defining the trusted ports using the ip dhcp snooping trust command.
Step 4. (Optional) Limit the rate at which an attacker can continually send bogus DHCP requests through untrusted ports to the DHCP server using the ip dhcp snooping limit raterate command.
CDP Attacks
The Cisco Discovery Protocol (CDP) is a proprietary protocol that all Cisco devices can be configured to use. CDP discovers other Cisco devices that are directly connected, which allows the devices to auto-configure their connection in some cases, simplifying configuration and connectivity. CDP messages are not encrypted.
By default, most Cisco routers and switches have CDP enabled. CDP information is sent in periodic broadcasts that are updated locally in each device's CDP database. Because CDP is a Layer 2 protocol, it is not propagated by routers.
CDP contains information about the device, such as the IP address, software version, platform, capabilities, and the native VLAN. When this information is available to an attacker, they can use it to find exploits to attack your network, typically in the form of a Denial of Service (DoS) attack.
The figure is a portion of an Ethereal packet trace showing the inside of a CDP packet. The Cisco IOS software version discovered via CDP, in particular, would allow the attacker to research and determine whether there were any security vulnerabilities specific to that particular version of code. Also, because CDP is unauthenticated, an attacker could craft bogus CDP packets and have them received by the attacker's directly connected Cisco device.
To address this vulnerability, it is recommended that you disable the use of CDP on devices that do not need to use it.
Telnet Attacks
The Telnet protocol can be used by an attacker to gain remote access to a Cisco network switch. In an earlier topic, you configured a login password for the vty lines and set the lines to require password authentication to gain access. This provides an essential and basic level of security to help protect the switch from unauthorized access. However, it is not a secure method of securing access to the vty lines. There are tools available that allow an attacker to launch a brute force password cracking attack against the vty lines on the switch.
Brute Force Password Attack
The first phase of a brute force password attack starts with the attacker using a list of common passwords and a program designed to try to establish a Telnet session using each word on the dictionary list. Luckily, you are smart enough not use a dictionary word, so you are safe for now. In the second phase of a brute force attack, the attacker uses a program that creates sequential character combinations in an attempt to "guess" the password. Given enough time, a brute force password attack can crack almost all passwords used.
The simplest thing that you can do to limit the vulnerability to brute force password attacks is to change your passwords frequently and use strong passwords randomly mixing upper and lowercase letters with numerals. More advanced configurations allow you to limit who can communicate with the vty lines by using access lists, but that is beyond the scope of this course.
DoS Attack
Another type of Telnet attack is the DoS attack. In a DoS attack, the attacker exploits a flaw in the Telnet server software running on the switch that renders the Telnet service unavailable. This sort of attack is mostly a nuisance because it prevents an administrator from performing switch management functions.
Vulnerabilities in the Telnet service that permit DoS attacks to occur are usually addressed in security patches that are included in newer Cisco IOS revisions. If you are experiencing a DoS attack against the Telnet service, or any other service on a Cisco device, check to see if there is a newer Cisco IOS revision available.

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