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What You Should Know About Port Scanning

Updated on November 17, 2011

The purpose of ports on your computer is to allow them to communicate via the internet. Port scanning is a method that hackers use to “test” potential target ports to see which ones are susceptible to attack. It is similar to a thief checking doors to see which ones are unlocked. An internet connection consists of over 65,000 ports that a potential hacker can access if not secured properly. During most connections, a large number of ports go unused.

Port scanning software is any program that sends connection requests to ports on another computer. Instead of actually connecting, the program records which ports were open to a connection and which were not. This information can then be used to attack the open ports. Although port scanning software can be used maliciously, all applications contain some sort of scanning program so they know where to connect.

Malicious scans can be detected by their frequency and IP address. A malicious scan typically entails ten or more scans per minute from the same IP source. You can configure antivirus and antimalware software to alert you when these conditions are met. Most good antivirus programs already have some protections in place against malicious port scanning.

Hackers have ways to circumvent these programs to some extent. Port scans can be undetectable by conventional methods if hackers stagger the frequency of their scans – most protection software will not alert you if similar scans occur over the course of hours as opposed to minutes. Hackers can also change what information their scan searches for. Scans can be restricted to only send information about closed ports. Closed ports usually cannot record information about attempted connections. Consequently, the hacker can stealthily determine what ports are open via process of elimination.

It is possible to install custom protection of your ports. Trying this is only advisable if you have a fair amount of experience with computers, or are actively consulting an expert. Ports are only fully protected when they are closed. Protecting ports yourself entails closing them manually. The first step in closing ports manually is to port-scan your own systems. Make sure you have permission from all system administrators before doing this. Based on this scan, you will be able to determine the most venerable ports and close them. Once again, it is important to be familiar with computer systems so that you do not accidentally close necessary ports.

Port scanning is a necessary part of networking; unfortunately, it can be used maliciously. To protect against attack, install antivirus software from a reputable source. If more protection is needed, consult an expert to discuss manually closing ports. In most cases, however, an antivirus program will provide adequate protection.


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