Tcp Ack Scans

The TCP ACK scan (Nmap -sA) sends a TCP ACK packet to each scanned port and looks for RST packets (not RST/ACK packets, in this case) from both open and closed ports. If no RST packet is returned by a target port, then Nmap infers that the port is filtered, as shown in the example ACK scan against the iptablesfw system below at .

The goal of the ACK scan is not to determine whether a port is open or closed, but whether a port is filtered by a stateful firewall. Because the iptables firewall is stateful whenever the Netfilter connection tracking subsystem is used (via the state match), no surprise ACK packets make it into the TCP stack on the iptablesfw system. Therefore, as shown here, no RST packets are returned to the scanner (note the ACK flag set at ©):

Starting Nmap 4.01 ( ) at 2007-07-03 00:36 EDT

All 1672 scanned ports on 71.157.X.X are: ©filtered

Nmap finished: 1 IP address (1 host up) scanned in 36.191 seconds

[iptablesfw]# grep ACK /var/log/messages | tail -n 1

Jul 3 00:37:18 iptablesfw kernel: DROP IN=eth0 OUT=

MAC=00:13:d3:38:b6:e4:00:30:48:80:4e:37:08:00 SRC=144.202.X.X DST=71.157.X.X LEN=40 TOS=0x00 PREC=0x00 TTL=43 ID=51322 PROTO=TCP SPT=62068 DPT=6006 WINDOW=4096 RES=0x00 ©ACK URGP=0

TCP Idle Scans

The TCP idle scan is an advanced scanning mode that requires three systems: a system to launch the scan, a scan target, and a zombie host running a TCP server that is not heavily utilized (hence the "idle" part of the scan's name). The idle scan is illustrated in Figure 3-6.


Figure 3-6: TCP idle scan

Scan Target


Figure 3-6: TCP idle scan

Scan Target

The idle scan exploits the fact that IP increments the IP ID value by one for every packet that is sent through the IP stack. The scan combines this fact with the requirement that a TCP stack send a SYN/ACK in response to a SYN packet to an open port, or a RST/ACK packet in response to a SYN packet to a closed port. In addition, all TCP stacks are required to ignore unsolicited RST/ACK packets. Taken together, these facts allow the scanner to watch how the zombie host increments the IP ID values during a TCP session that is maintained from scanner to the zombie host, while the scanner spoofs SYN packets with the zombie host's IP address at the target system. As a result, the scanner is able to monitor IP ID values in the IP header of packets coming from the zombie system, and from this information it is able to extrapolate whether ports are open or closed on the target.

When a SYN packet is sent from the scanner to an open port on the target (see Figure 3-6) with the source IP address spoofed as the zombie's IP address, the target responds with a SYN/ACK (to the zombie system). Because the SYN packet that the zombie receives is actually unsolicited (it was spoofed from the scanner), it responds with a RST5 to the target system, thereby incrementing the IP ID counter by one. If a SYN packet is sent from the scanner to a closed port on the target (again with the source IP address spoofed), the target responds to the zombie with a RST/ACK, and the zombie ignores this unsolicited packet. Because in this case no packet is sent from the zombie, the IP ID value is not incremented.

By monitoring how the IP ID values are incremented (by one for open ports on the target, and not at all for closed ports), the scanner can infer

5 The RST packet from the zombie does not contain the ACK bit in this case because the SYN/ACK from the target does have the ACK bit set. More material on the circumstances under which an ACK bit is set on a RST packet is included in "RST vs. RST/ACK" on page 63.

which ports are open on the target system. However, the most important factor in determining the success of the idle scan is the utilization of available services on the zombie. A popular webserver is not suitable as a zombie. In this case, because every TCP connection increments the IP ID value, the value is incremented beyond the scanner's control for the most part. This makes it impractical to map changes in the IP ID value to scanned ports.

Systems that are the target of idle scans have no way to know the real source of the scan because all they see are spoofed SYN packets from the zombie host. The iptables logs on the target look just like a normal SYN scan (see "TCP SYN or Half-Open Scans" on page 56).

NOTE If a default-drop firewall is running on the zombie host, the only way for the idle scan to work is for the scanner to hard-code the source port to an open TCP port on the zombie. The reason is that a filtered SYN/ACK would not be seen by the zombie TCP stack, so it would never send a RST and the IP ID would therefore not increment. In some cases, the lightly utilized service might be the only available port if a firewall is deployed.

UDP Scans

Since UDP does not implement control messages for establishing a connection, scans for UDP services are simplistic and accomplished in one way by sending data to a UDP port and then seeing if anything comes back within a reasonable amount of time. Because a UDP packet to an unfiltered port where no server is listening will elicit an ICMP Port Unreachable message, it is easy for a scanner to determine whether a UDP port is closed.

In contrast, a UDP packet to an open port may be met with complete silence even if the packet is not filtered. This is because a UDP server is not obligated to respond with a packet; whether it responds is entirely at the discretion of the particular server application that is bound to the port.

If a firewall blocks a UDP packet to a particular port from a scanner, the scanner's receiving nothing looks to the scanner like a UDP application bound to the port had nothing to say. (This is why ports that are filtered are reported as open|filtered by Nmap.) For example, below is an Nmap UDP scan of the iptablesfw system and a few lines of iptables log entries. You can see that all scanned UDP ports are in the open|filtered state (shown in bold), and a sample UDP iptables log message follows the scan output:

Starting Nmap 4.01 ( ) at 2007-07-03 00:44 EDT

All 1482 scanned ports on 71.157.X.X are: open|filtered

Nmap finished: 1 IP address (1 host up) scanned in 32.260 seconds

[iptablesfw]# tail /var/log/messages | grep UDP | tail -n 1 Jul 3 00:45:01 iptablesfw kernel: DROP IN=eth0 OUT=

MAC=00:13:d3:38:b6:e4:00:30:48:80:4e:37:08:00 SRC=144.202.X.X DST=71.157.X.X LEN=28 TOS=0x00 PREC=0x00 TTL=42 ID=48755 PROTO=UDP SPT=60906 DPT=381 LEN=8

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