Understanding Address Resolution Protocol Vulnerabilities

Understanding Address Resolution Protocol Vulnerabilities


Hosts broadcast an ARP Request to other hosts on the network segment to determine the MAC address of a host with a particular IP address. All hosts on the subnet receive and process the ARP Request. The host with the matching IP address in the ARP Request sends an ARP Reply. This article talks about Address Resolution Protocol vulnerabilities. Follow me as we will look at that together in this article.


Any client can send an unsolicited ARP Reply called a “gratuitous ARP.” This is often done when a device first boots up to inform all other devices on the local network of the new device’s MAC address. When a host sends a gratuitous ARP, other hosts on the subnet store the MAC address and IP address contained in the gratuitous ARP in their ARP tables.


However, this feature of ARP also means that any host can claim to be the owner of any IP/MAC they choose. A threat actor can poison the ARP cache of devices on the local network, creating a MiTM attack to redirect traffic. The goal is to associate the threat actor’s MAC address with the IP address of the default gateway in the ARP caches of hosts on the LAN segment. This positions the threat actor in between the victim and all other systems outside of the local subnet.

ARP cache poisoning can be used to launch various man-in-the-middle attacks.
Note: There are many tools available on the internet to create ARP MiTM attacks including dsniff, Cain & Abel, ettercap, Yersinia, and others.

DNS Attacks

The Domain Name Service (DNS) protocol defines an automated service that matches resource names, such as www.cisco.com, with the required numeric network address, such as the IPv4 or IPv6 address. It includes the format for queries, responses, and data and uses resource records (RR) to identify the type of DNS response.
Securing DNS is often overlooked. However, it is crucial to the operation of a network and should be secured accordingly.
DNS attacks include the following:
  • DNS open resolver attacks
  • DNS stealth attacks
  • DNS domain shadowing attacks
  • DNS tunnelling attacks


DNS Open Resolver Attacks
Many organizations use the services of publicly open DNS servers such as GoogleDNS ( to provide responses to queries. This type of DNS server is called an open resolver. A DNS open resolver answers query from clients outside of its administrative domain. DNS open resolvers are vulnerable to multiple malicious activities described in the table.

Table caption
DNS Resolver Vulnerabilities Description
DNS cache poisoning attacks Threat actors send spoofed, falsified record resource (RR) information to a DNS resolver to redirect users from legitimate sites to malicious sites. DNS cache poisoning attacks can all be used to inform the DNS resolver to use a malicious name server that is providing RR information for malicious activities.
DNS amplification and reflection attacks Threat actors use DoS or DDoS attacks on DNS open resolvers to increase the volume of attacks and to hide the true source of an attack. Threat actors send DNS messages to the open resolvers using the IP address of a target host. These attacks are possible because the open resolver will respond to queries from anyone asking a question.
DNS resource utilization attacks A DoS attack that consumes the resources of the DNS open resolvers. This DoS attack consumes all the available resources to negatively affect the operations of the DNS open resolver. The impact of this DoS attack may require the DNS open resolver to be rebooted or services to be stopped and restarted.
DNS Stealth Attacks
To hide their identity, threat actors also use the DNS stealth techniques described in the table to carry out their attacks.
Table caption
DNS Stealth Techniques Description
Fast Flux Threat actors use this technique to hide their phishing and malware delivery sites behind a quickly-changing network of compromised DNS hosts. The DNS IP addresses are continuously changed within minutes. Botnets often employ Fast Flux techniques to effectively hide malicious servers from being detected.
Double IP Flux Threat actors use this technique to rapidly change the hostname to IP address mappings and to also change the authoritative name server. This increases the difficulty of identifying the source of the attack.
Domain Generation Algorithms Threat actors use this technique in malware to randomly generate domain names that can then be used as rendezvous points to their command and control (C&C) servers.
DNS Domain Shadowing Attacks
Domain shadowing involves the threat actor gathering domain account credentials in order to silently create multiple sub-domains to be used during the attacks. These subdomains typically point to malicious servers without alerting the actual owner of the parent domain.

DNS Tunneling

Botnets have become a popular attack method of threat actors. Most often, botnets are used to spread malware or launch DDoS and phishing attacks.
DNS in the enterprise is sometimes overlooked as a protocol that can be used by botnets. Because of this, when DNS traffic is determined to be part of an incident, the attack is often already over.
It is necessary for the cybersecurity analyst to be able to detect when an attacker is using DNS tunnelling to steal data and prevent and contain the attack. To accomplish this, the security analyst must implement a solution that can block outbound communications from the infected hosts.

Threat actors who use DNS tunnelling place non-DNS traffic within DNS traffic. This method often circumvents security solutions. For the threat actor to use DNS tunnelling, the different types of DNS records such as TXT, MX, SRV, NULL, A, or CNAME are altered. For example, a TXT record can store the commands that are sent to the infected host bots as DNS replies. A DNS tunnelling attack using TXT works like this:



  1. The data is split into multiple encoded chunks.
  2. Each chunk is placed into a lower level domain name label of the DNS query.
  3. Because there is no response from the local or networked DNS for the query, the request is sent to the ISP’s recursive DNS servers.
  4. The recursive DNS service will forward the query to the attacker’s authoritative name server.
  5. The process is repeated until all of the queries containing the chunks are sent.
  6. When the attacker’s authoritative name server receives the DNS queries from the infected devices, it sends responses for each DNS query, which contains the encapsulated, encoded commands.
  7. The malware on the compromised host recombines the chunks and executes the commands hidden within.


To be able to stop DNS tunnelling, a filter that inspects DNS traffic must be used. Pay particular attention to DNS queries that are longer than average, or those that have a suspicious domain name. Also, DNS security solutions, such as Cisco Umbrella (formerly Cisco OpenDNS), block much of the DNS tunnelling traffic by identifying suspicious domains. Domains associated with Dynamic DNS services should be considered highly suspect.


The figure shows an attacker p c on the right with an arrow pointing to a C & C server to the left of the p c. The C & C server has 4 servers to the left of it. Under all the servers is the word bots. Beside each server is the word bot.
An arrow with a tube over it goes from the C & C server to the top and bottom servers. A normal line with an arrow at the end goes from the C & C server pointing to the two middle servers. Words up top are 1. compromise computers. 2. send C & C to bots.


DHCP servers dynamically provide IP configuration information to clients. The figure shows the typical sequence of a DHCP message exchange between client and server.
The graphic shows the exchange of messages between a client and a DHCP server during normal DHCP operations. First, the client sends a broadcast DHCPDISCOVER message to the server with the message, I would like to request an address. The server responds with a unicast DHCPOFFER message saying, I am DHCPsvr1.
Here is an address I can offer. Information in this message is: IP address of, Subnet Mask of, Default Gateway of, and lease time of 3 days. The client responds with a broadcast DHCPREQUEST message saying, I accept the IP address offer. The server responds with a unicast DHCPACK message saying, Your acceptance is acknowledged.

DHCP Attacks

DHCP Spoofing Attack
A DHCP spoofing attack occurs when a rogue DHCP server is connected to the network and provides false IP configuration parameters to legitimate clients. A rogue server can provide a variety of misleading information:
  • Wrong default gateway – The threat actor provides an invalid gateway, or the IP address of its host to create a MiTM attack. This may go entirely undetected as the intruder intercepts the data flow through the network.
  • Wrong DNS server – A threat actor provides an incorrect DNS server address pointing the user to a malicious website.
  • Wrong IP address – The threat actor provides an invalid IP address, invalid default gateway IP address, or both. The threat actor then creates a DoS attack on the DHCP client.

Assume a threat actor has successfully connected a rogue DHCP server to a switch port on the same subnet as the target clients. The goal of the rogue server is to provide clients with false IP configuration information.

1. Client Broadcasts DHCP Discovery Messages
2. DHCP Servers Respond with Offers
3. Client Accepts Rogue DHCP Request
4. Rogue DHCP Acknowledges the Request
In the figure, a legitimate client connects to the network and requires IP configuration parameters. The client broadcasts a DHCP Discover request looking for a response from a DHCP server. Both servers receive the message.



Action Point
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I know you might agree with some of the points that I have raised in this article. You might not agree with some of the issues raised. Let me know your views about the topic discussed. We will appreciate it if you can drop your comment. Thanks in anticipation.


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