Scanning Attack: What It Is and How to Protect Your Organization Against It

Scanning Attack: What It Is and How to Protect Your Organization Against It

Written by komal00, In Cybersecurity, Published On
April 26, 2024
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Threat actors utilise scanning attacks to find holes in a network or system. It’s important to note that the following information is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be used for any other purpose.

This article will discuss scanning attacks, the different kinds of scanning available, and the defences you may put in place to keep attackers out of your systems. Without further ado…

What’s the Purpose of Scanning?

Scanners can be used to defend or harm your system, depending on who does them. Also, the intent of the scan is what distinguishes moral (white-hat) hackers from dishonest (black-hat) hackers. This is why:

  • Scanning is a technique used in ethical hacking to find potential security flaws and report them to the company so that they can be rectified before hostile actors take advantage of them.
  • Scanning is also used to find vulnerabilities in unethical hacking, but the goal is to acquire unauthorised access or start an attack for personal gain or to hurt the target.

What Is a Scanning Attack?

Scanning is more of a method used to find weaknesses in systems and networks than an attack per se. However, it can result in a cyber attack if it is carried out by bad actors who want to learn more precise details about their target.

They might learn the following details about your IT infrastructure if the “scanning” is successful:

  • IP addresses and hostnames – Attackers can map the topology of the network and find targets by using scanning to uncover the IP addresses and hostnames of connected devices;
  • Open ports and services – Scannable devices can reveal open ports and the services that are using them;
  • Operating system & software info – The operating system that a device is running can be found out through scanning, along with any potential vulnerabilities;
  • User Account Information – User accounts, usernames, and occasionally even passwords can be found through scanning;
  • Network architecture – Scanners can provide information about firewalls, switches, and routers to help find potential network entry points;
  • Application and service vulnerabilities – Scanning might discover weaknesses in particular network services or applications.
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With this information, attackers can gain a deeper understanding of your network and systems and use it to launch several attacks, such as phishing, malware, ransomware, denial-of-service (DoS), and social engineering.

How Does Scanning Attack Work? Scanning Types

During scanning, several data packets are delivered to the system or network to determine which services and ports are open and accessible. Although this can be done manually, attackers frequently use automated tools such as port scanners, network mappers, sweepers, and vulnerability scanners. War dialers, for example, scan phone numbers to detect linked modems and other devices.

In this process, many sorts of scanning techniques are used, including:

PORT SCANNING

Port scanning requires probing a network to find open ports and services that can be utilised to access the target system. This is often accomplished by sending packets to various target port numbers and then examining the answers to identify the ports that are open, closed, or filtered. Open ports may indicate operating programmes or services that can be targeted for more in-depth exploitation.

Ping, Vanilla, TCP half-open, TCP connect, UDP, Christmas, and FIN scans are sub-techniques used in port scanning. What Is a Port Scan Attack? is a piece my colleague Livia wrote if you want to learn more about definitions and preventive measures for businesses.

NETWORK SCANNING/MAPPING

Network scanning is the process of locating devices, services, and their connections on a network. Finding hosts, open ports, and active services entails sending packets to various IP addresses on the network and examining the responses obtained. Network scanning is done to map out the target network and find potential attack routes.

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VULNERABILITY SCANNING

Vulnerability scanning is a method for finding potential security holes in a system or network. It involves scanning a system or network with automated tools for known vulnerabilities, such as out-of-date software, unpatched systems, or improperly configured settings.

Vulnerability scanning can be done regularly to detect and mitigate potential security threats proactively, or it can be done in response to a specific security incident. Organizations can take action to address vulnerabilities after they are found, such as by installing software patches. What Is Vulnerability Scanning: Definition, Types, Recommended Practices is a comprehensive article that my colleague Cristian produced if you want to learn more about vulnerability scanning.

The Second Phase of Hacking

Scanning might be risky because it essentially allows threat actors to get closer to accessing your company’s systems. In actuality, scanning is step two in a five-stage hacking procedure. The first phase is reconnaissance, followed by scanning, which involves actively probing the target system to find vulnerabilities, gain access, keep access, and finally, hide one’s tracks.

Does Scanning Require Direct Access to a System?

Yes, but it does help. While vulnerability or network scanners can be used remotely to scan a target network for open ports, vulnerabilities, and other potential attack vectors, scanning attacks do not always require direct access to the system. As a result, the scan’s effectiveness may be constrained if the scanner cannot access all areas of the network because of firewalls or other security measures. Additionally, some scanning techniques, like wireless scanning, might require the scanner to be close to the target network or system.

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How to Prevent a Scanning Attack?

While scanning cannot be stopped, the attack surface can be reduced with the help of the appropriate techniques and equipment. The following are six steps you may take to protect your business from scanning attacks:

  • Use firewalls: A firewall is a crucial part of any cybersecurity plan. They can be set up to stop port scanning attempts and prevent illegal access to your network.
  • Regularly update software and systems: Updating software and systems is essential for preventing security flaws that attackers could exploit. Make sure to apply security updates and fixes as soon as they become available.
  • Use intrusion detection (IDS) and prevention systems (IPS): By warning you about questionable network behaviour, intrusion detection and prevention systems can assist in identifying and stopping scanning attempts.
  • Implement access controls: Restricting access to sensitive systems and data may be able to stop illegal scanning attempts.
  • Conduct your own vulnerability scans: Your cybersecurity approach should include regular vulnerability scanning, which can help you discover potential security risks before attackers can use them against you.
  • Educate your staff: Training staff on cybersecurity best practices, such as generating secure passwords and avoiding phishing scams, can decrease the likelihood of social engineering attacks that could result in scanning attempts.

Conclusion

All systems and networks are seriously at risk from scanning attacks, but your business can protect itself using appropriate security methods and equipment. Start preparing for firewalls, intrusion detection and prevention systems, and vulnerability management tools, as they are crucial steps to building a powerful cyber defence.

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