Banner Grabbing and OS Fingerprinting Techniques



Banner grabbing and operating system identification—which can also be defined as fingerprinting the TCP/IP stack—is the fourth step in the CEH scanning methodology. The process of fingerprinting allows the hacker to identify particularly vulnerable or high-value targets on the network. Hackers are looking for the easiest way to gain access to a system or network. Banner grabbing is the process of opening a connection and reading the banner or response sent by the application. Many email, FTP, and web servers will respond to a telnet connection with the name and version of the software. This aids a hacker in fingerprinting the OS and application software. For example, a Microsoft Exchange email server would only be installed on a Windows OS.
Active stack fingerprinting is the most common form of fingerprinting. It involves sending data to a system to see how the system responds. It's based on the fact that various operating system vendors implement the TCP stack differently, and responses will differ based on the operating system. The responses are then compared to a database to determine the operating system. Active stack fingerprinting is detectable because it repeatedly attempts to connect with the same target system.
Passive stack fingerprinting is stealthier and involves examining traffic on the network to determine the operating system. It uses sniffing techniques instead of scanning techniques. Passive stack fingerprinting usually goes undetected by an IDS or other security system but is less accurate than active fingerprinting.

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