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passive scanning

Contributor(s): Matthew Haughn

Passive scanning is a method of vulnerability detection that relies on information gleaned from network data that is captured from a target computer without direct interaction.

Packet sniffing applications can be used for passive scanning to reveal information such as operating system, known protocols running on non-standard ports and active network applications with known bugs. Passive scanning may be conducted by a network administrator scanning for security vulnerabilities or by an intruder as a preliminary to an active attack.

For an intruder, passive scanning's main advantage is that it does not leave a trail that could alert users or administrators to their activities. For an administrator, the main advantage is that it doesn't risk causing undesired behavior on the target computer, such as freezes. Because of these advantages, passive scanning need not be limited to a narrow time frame to minimize risk or disruption, which means that it is likely to return more information.

Passive scanning does have limitations. It is not as complete in detail as active vulnerability scanning and cannot detect any applications that are not currently sending out traffic; nor can it distinguish false information put out for obfuscation.

This was last updated in August 2014

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