MAC Address Table Attack
MAC Address Table Attack

MAC Address Table Attack

MAC Address Table Attack


This topic explain how a MAC address table attack compromises LAN security. Start learning CCNA 200-301 for free right now!!

Note: Welcome: This topic is part of Module 10 of the Cisco CCNA 2 course, for a better follow up of the course you can go to the CCNA 2 section to guide you through an order.

Switch Operation Review

In this topic, the focus is still on switches, specifically their MAC address tables and how these tables are vulnerable to attacks.

Recall that to make forwarding decisions, a Layer 2 LAN switch builds a table based on the source MAC addresses in received frames. Shown in the figure, this is called a MAC address table. MAC address tables are stored in memory and are used to more efficiently forward frames.

S1# show mac address-table dynamic
          Mac Address Table
Vlan    Mac Address       Type        Ports
----    -----------       --------    -----
   1    0001.9717.22e0    DYNAMIC     Fa0/4
   1    000a.f38e.74b3    DYNAMIC     Fa0/1
   1    0090.0c23.ceca    DYNAMIC     Fa0/3
   1    00d0.ba07.8499    DYNAMIC     Fa0/2

MAC Address Table Flooding

All MAC tables have a fixed size and consequently, a switch can run out of resources in which to store MAC addresses. MAC address flooding attacks take advantage of this limitation by bombarding the switch with fake source MAC addresses until the switch MAC address table is full.

When this occurs, the switch treats the frame as an unknown unicast and begins to flood all incoming traffic out all ports on the same VLAN without referencing the MAC table. This condition now allows a threat actor to capture all of the frames sent from one host to another on the local LAN or local VLAN.

Note: Traffic is flooded only within the local LAN or VLAN. The threat actor can only capture traffic within the local LAN or VLAN to which the threat actor is connected.

The figure shows how a threat actor can easily use the network attack tool macof to overflow a MAC address table.

MAC Address Table Flooding
  1. The threat actor is connected to VLAN 10 and uses macof to rapidly generate many random source and destination MAC and IP addresses.
  2. Over a short period of time, the switch’s MAC table fills up.
  3. When the MAC table is full, the switch begins to flood all frames that it receives. As long as macof continues to run, the MAC table remains full and the switch continues to flood all incoming frames out every port associated with VLAN 10.
  4. The threat actor then uses packet sniffing software to capture frames from any and all devices connected to VLAN 10.

If the threat actor stops macof from running or is discovered and stopped, the switch eventually ages out the older MAC address entries from the table and begins to act like a switch again.

MAC Address Table Attack Mitigation

What makes tools such as macof so dangerous is that an attacker can create a MAC table overflow attack very quickly. For instance, a Catalyst 6500 switch can store 132,000 MAC addresses in its MAC address table. A tool such as macof can flood a switch with up to 8,000 bogus frames per second; creating a MAC address table overflow attack in a matter of a few seconds. The example shows a sample output of the macof command on a Linux host.

# macof -i eth1
36:a1:48:63:81:70 15:26:8d:4d:28:f8 > S 1094191437:1094191437(0) win 512 
16:e8:8:0:4d:9c da:4d:bc:7c:ef:be > S 446486755:446486755(0) win 512 
18:2a:de:56:38:71 33:af:9b:5:a6:97 > S 105051945:105051945(0) win 512 
e7:5c:97:42:ec:1 83:73:1a:32:20:93 > S 1838062028:1838062028(0) win 512 
62:69:d3:1c:79:ef 80:13:35:4:cb:d0 > S 1792413296:1792413296(0) win 512 
c5:a:b7:3e:3c:7a 3a:ee:c0:23:4a:fe > S 1018924173:1018924173(0) win 512 
88:43:ee:51:c7:68 b4:8d:ec:3e:14:bb > S 727776406:727776406(0) win 512 
b8:7a:7a:2d:2c:ae c2:fa:2d:7d:e7:bf > S 605528173:605528173(0) win 512 
e0:d8:1e:74:1:e 57:98:b6:5a:fa:de > S 2128143986:2128143986(0) win 512

Another reason why these attack tools are dangerous is because they not only affect the local switch, they can also affect other connected Layer 2 switches. When the MAC address table of a switch is full, it starts flooding out all ports including those connected to other Layer 2 switches.

To mitigate MAC address table overflow attacks, network administrators must implement port security. Port security will only allow a specified number of source MAC addresses to be learned on the port. Port security is further discussed in another module.

Glossary: If you have doubts about any special term, you can consult this computer network dictionary.

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