The Dangers of IP Spoofing and How to Protect Yourself

Learn the basics of IP spoofing and how it affects your security.
Mary James, Author
Catherine McNally, Editor
Last updated Jan 11, 2023

IP address spoofing sounds like a funny game you may play online with your friends, but it’s actually an online process that can be useful or damaging, depending on the intention of the user. But what is a spoofer? And how can we protect ourselves from this type of security threat?

IP spoofing is simply using an internet protocol (IP) address that isn’t the same as the one on the device being used. The act itself isn’t good or bad. Whether this becomes a problem is based on the intention of the user.

So let’s dig into IP spoofing, what it is, how many variations there can be, and what measures to take to prevent it.

In this article
IP spoofing defined
How IP spoofing works
Common IP spoofing attacks
Tips to protect yourself from IP spoofing
IP spoofing FAQs
Bottom line

IP spoofing defined

Each device that connects to the internet has a unique IP address. Simply put, IP spoofing fraudulently uses a different address to access the internet. This can be useful or harmful depending on the intention of the person initiating the spoof. Either way, it does hide the identity of the spoofer.

If you’re looking to protect your data online, safely use public Wi-Fi, or catch streaming channels from other countries, IP spoofing can be achieved through a virtual private network (VPN) and is legal in most countries. Because the intention behind this type of spoofing isn’t nefarious, it’s allowed and even encouraged.

Protecting your IP address serves several purposes. Trusted IP addresses allow you to access sites or other processes that know you aren’t there for nefarious purposes. It also keeps your data, machines, and identity safe.

The dark side of IP spoofing involves cloaking identities and cybercrime. A cybercriminal can use a spoofed IP address to access systems, spy on your internet activity, fake legitimate websites, or launch a DDoS attack

All of these have the potential to steal valuable information that can compromise your Social Security number, login credentials, and credit card numbers, not to mention these cyber attacks could lead to identity theft, deploy ransomware, and so many other dangerous activities.

IP spoofing in the wild

  • In 2013, six U.S. banks were hit simultaneously by a DDoS attack. This allowed hackers access to personal banking information for millions of customers.
  • In 2015, hackers used DNS spoofing to compromise Malaysian Airlines website and redirect people to a 404 page stating “Plane Not Found.”
  • In 2018, healthcare provider Humana was also hit by a spoofing attack. Patient information was stolen.

Although this doesn’t seem like an exhaustive list, there’s often not a lot of transparency in hacking and malware attacks. Because of the lack of transparency, it’s difficult to know how many other hacks and data breaches we’ve heard about lead back to IP spoofing. The more transparency we have, the more we can study how attacks happened and how to prevent them in the future.

IP spoofing types

There are a variety of ways to deploy IP spoofing that can appear differently to each victim. By knowing the different types and how they intend to trick you, it’s easier to avoid falling prey. It’s interesting to note that IP spoofing, though having the potential to be malicious, isn’t always bad.

  • Domain Name System (DNS) Spoofing: Also called website spoofing, this type of cyber attack happens when a hacker reroutes your website request to a fraudulent page.
  • Distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) Attacks: The cybercriminal gathers a mass of IP addresses and sends them all toward a site at once to try to overload it.
  • Virtual Private Network (VPN): A VPN uses a fake IP address to hide the location of the user.
  • Man-in-the-Middle attack: The bad actor is able to get access to a secure interaction without detection.
  • Blind spoofing: A code cracker sends false information to a network to trick it into revealing its code. The attacker then deciphers the code and inserts false information.
  • Nonblind spoofing: A code cracker inside the same network as the target is able to see the code for transmission and insert themselves without authentication.

Did you know there are other types of spoofing? They include:

  • Email spoofing: This is where a cybercriminal attempts to spoof an email sender address so you think the message came from a trusted source. This is a common tactic in phishing attacks and scams.
  • Caller ID spoofing: Scammers may also try to use caller ID spoofing to disguise their true phone number and identity and make you think they're a legitimate caller. This could even go so far as a scammer making phone calls using what looks like a local number.

How IP spoofing works

To help you picture how IP spoofing works, let’s start by imagining the internet as a post office. At the post office, companies, individuals, government agencies, and schools all use its services to send letters and packages. The internet works the same way.

Your device’s IP address is similar to your home address. The IP address of the machine you’re sending or requesting information from is like the business address. The DNS acts like the workers in the post office: reading the address of where the package is going and verifying where it came from by looking at your home address (your IP address).

Let’s pretend accessing a website is like sending flowers to a friend at their place of work.

In a normal internet interaction, the steps look like this:

  1. You want to send flowers to your friend’s office for their birthday.
  2. You order the flowers.
  3. The floral shop fills the order and gives it to the delivery person.
  4. The delivery address is checked by the person delivering it.
  5. They bring your friend the flowers because they have the correct address.

In the case of IP spoofing, the steps would look more like this:

  1. You want to send flowers to your friend’s office for their birthday.
  2. You order the flowers.
  3. A flower thief intercepts your order before it makes it to the floral shop.
  4. The floral shop fills the order with the new address the thief put on your order.
  5. The delivery person takes the flowers to the new address without you or the floral shop knowing it’s not headed to your friend.
  6. The flower thief absconds with your friend’s birthday flowers and disappears into the wind.

Although this might be a silly breakdown of a complex system, it’s the general idea of how an IP spoofing attack works. 

At some point in an interaction, the intended IP address is replaced with a fraudulent one. This is where the spoofing, or the fraud, occurs. The rest of the interaction then takes on the nature of one of the attack methods listed above.

Common IP spoofing attacks

VPN

A VPN is the most common type of IP spoofing. Although it’s not technically an attack, it employs the same principles. A VPN will hide your real IP address so you can move around the internet without anyone knowing where you’re located. It could be considered part of an attack if the cyber criminal uses it to shield their location to help avoid capture.

DDoS

A DDoS attack is an invasion. A hacker can spoof an IP to add to their zombie bot army. (This sounds hyperbolic, but the individual spoofed machines are literally called bots or zombies.) The hacker then deploys this army at a site, server, or network to try to overwhelm the victim. This is called a botnet and acts like a virtual army to attack the target. Since the IPs are spoofed, they look like legitimate machines.

Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) attacks

A hacker intercepts what is thought to be a secure connection and creates havoc. This can be accomplished in a number of ways, but it’s frequently initiated through a phishing attempt.

Phishing attacks are when a bad actor tries to trick you into giving up sensitive information like login names and passwords. This is why it’s important to be able to spot phishing and other social engineering attacks.

DNS attacks

Again, DNS attacks can usually be accomplished through social engineering attacks. This is when a hacker will reroute you to a fake copy of a page you thought was safe. Hovering your mouse above a link or attempting a preview will allow you to see the real web address before you click.

If you’re on a mobile device, you can hold the link and a preview should appear. You can look at the web address in the preview. Just make sure to slide your finger off the link and touch somewhere else on the page to clear it if you think it’s suspicious. Many fake websites will have characters that look similar to the real character. (Think swapping out the letter O for the number 0.)

If you want to be really safe, don’t click links; type the address directly into the address bar then look for the lock symbol next to it to see if it’s verified secure.

Nonblind spoofing

This is where a hacker doesn’t have to worry about gaining access to your network because they’re already inside.

While blind spoofing requires a code cracker to find the code within a network to access it, nonblind spoofing is used by a code cracker once they’re already inside the network.

Blind spoofing attempts are far less common because of the difficulty to pull off. Nonblind spoofing attempts happen more since the hacker is looking for vulnerabilities within a network they have already accessed.

Tips to protect yourself from IP spoofing

Not becoming a victim of IP spoofing is more about preventative measures than reactive ones. It’s much easier to prevent the hack than to fix it once it’s begun. Here are some steps you can take to prevent IP spoofing.

  • First, you need to understand how to stay safe online.
  • Using strong passwords with uppercase letters, lowercase letters, special characters, and more than 10 characters will all go a long way toward creating a safeguard against hackers.
  • Keeping your cybersecurity software current can help protect your machines with the newest technology. For example, antivirus programs with application whitelisting only allow things they know are good. That means they're protecting you from even undiscovered threats.
  • Application patches are when something like your phone wants to send out a security update or an app you love decides to “patch” a security flaw. Keeping your applications updated to the most recent patches will keep you touting the newest security features.
  • VPNs are, funny enough, a great way to protect yourself. Because they hide your IP address, they can keep you from becoming a victim.
  • Firewalls have the ability to filter fake IP addresses and malicious websites. This can keep you from encountering the hacker’s plans before they ever get a chance to cross your desktop.

IP spoofing FAQs


+

Is IP spoofing illegal?

Technically, no. VPNs use this technology. As long as you live in a country where VPNs are legal, then you aren’t breaking any laws by using one. Once the spoofing is used for criminal activity, then it becomes illegal.


+

Is IP spoofing dangerous?

Technically, no. It’s completely harmless to use a VPN for data protection or circumventing regional restrictions. Depending on the intent of the action, it can be dangerous. It is dangerous for the victim of an IP spoofing attack.


+

Can I detect IP spoofing?

Maybe. It depends on the type of attack. It is possible to detect something like a DDoS attack because there’s an influx of traffic in a place that usually doesn’t receive that much activity. Mostly, however, IP spoofing is fairly secretive and difficult to detect. It’s much easier to prevent, though no prevention method is 100% foolproof.


+

What’s the difference between a proxy, VPN, and IP spoofing?

  • A proxy, or proxy server, does hide your IP address but it doesn’t encrypt your data. A proxy server is mostly used to allow access to certain sites. Think, for example, of a work computer allowing most of the internet except social media.
  • A VPN encrypts your data and allows you to go anywhere on the internet.
  • IP spoofing hides the identity of the IP address of the device used to connect to the internet.

Bottom line

People have been concealing their identities for as long as humans have been around. In our modern times, IP spoofing is just another way to hide who you are from the world. The act itself isn’t bad, but, as we’ve mentioned, the intention behind it can be for safety or thievery.

The best way to protect yourself from IP spoofing, whether you’re an individual, business, government agency, or educational institution, is by using preventative measures. VPNs, firewalls, and secure passwords are a great start.

Because the internet is a living thing, the ways we use it (and have to protect ourselves) are constantly evolving. Continuing to educate yourself about the threats out there will keep you in-the-know on the newest and most effective ways to stay safe out there.

Author Details
Mary lives in Los Angeles and has been writing about tech for over 5 years. When she's not writing for work or fun, you'll find her in a theatre, at the movies, volunteering, or hiking the gorgeous SoCal landscape.